Right On! ^
More Is Less
Fred A. Bernstein
The endangered house next to the Cooper Square Hotel
New York City officials have to decide to stop the demolition of a small, brick house in the East Village. The Federal style house, which has stood at 35 Cooper Square since 1825, is scheduled to be replaced with a new building. Preservationists, under the gun, have been combing through records of the building’s past to build the case for saving it — as an important artifact of nineteenth century Manhattan.
But there’s a reason to save the building that has nothing to do with its past, and everything to do with the present.
The house is all that stands between two angled, glass-and-steel buildings (one of them, Thom Mayne's academic building for the Cooper Union, a masterpiece of contemporary architecture). Those buildings wouldn't be the same without their modest, gable-roofed companion.
Contemporary buildings feed on historical context. When that context is removed, even the best of the new buildings fall flat.
Picture (or, if you're in New York, visit) West 19th Street, between 11th Avenue and the Hudson River.
On the north side of the street is Jean Nouvel’s "vision-machine" — a 19-story apartment building covered in thousands of tilted glass panels. On the south side is Frank Gehry’s IAC building, the wavy, iceberg-like apparition. That’s already a lot of star-chitecture for one block. But next to the Gehry building, Shigeru Ban’s Metal Shutter House offers a touch of the Japanese industrial aesthetic, circa 2010. Next door is Annabelle Selldorf's shiny 520 West Chelsea, seen as a wall of unadorned strip windows.
Look southwest from the middle of the block, and you could be in Dubai or, worse, a contemporary architecture theme park in Las Vegas. The new buildings have crowded out context — the layering that makes New York, New York.
Just a few blocks east, the same effect — call it too much of a good thing — is even more pronounced. Della Valle and Bernheimer, a young Brooklyn firm, designed an angled, black-and-white glass building at 459 West 18th. At almost the same moment, Audrey Matlock's Chelsea Modern rose next door at 447 West 18th, its facade a flat mix of blue and white windows.
In fact, either building, bracketed by older, masonry buildings, would have provided a welcome jolt of modernism. Together, they appear to be competing for dominance, a fight neither can win. There’s a similar problem in the West Village, where Asymptote's terrific building at 166 Perry Street abuts Richard Meier's 176 Perry Street, looking like an annex. (Despite Asymptote's ingenuity, there are only so many ways to utilize white glass.) It doesn't help that Meier himself added a third glass tower to the original pair of buildings. Two Meiers is company; three's a housing project.
The Jean Nouvel building reflected in Frank Gehry"s building
“The shock of the new,” it turns out, is only a pleasant shock when there is old to measure it against. Even Mies van der Rohe, whose Seagram Building has been seriously diminished by the imitators that flank it up and down Park Avenue, would have to agree that sometimes “more is less.”
Frank Gehry’s Guggenheim Bilbao, considered the greatest building of the late 20th century, works because it is glimpsed at the end of a narrow city street, crowded with art nouveau facades. In a less urban, less urbane, setting, it might have been seen as an oddity. (Gehry shouldn’t take offense at this; context has always been important in his work.) One of the great strengths of his latest building — the residential tower at 8 Spruce Street — is that it plays off against the 1919 Woolworth Building: equally daring in its own right, and now part of a accretion of styles over time.
As for the original Guggenheim Museum, by Frank Lloyd Wright: Its power comes from the placement of its arcs against New York’s right angles (both the street grid and the window grids of the adjacent buildings). Compare the Guggenheim to another curvy engineering marvel, the Trylon and Perisphere of the 1939 New York World's Fair. The difference between a masterpiece and a passing fancy, it turns out, is largely whether one is placed in a city, or stranded in a sea of equally experimental buildings.
At the Shanghai World Expo last summer, there were probably 20 buildings as interesting, in terms of form and surface, as work by Nouvel, Gehry, and Zaha Hadid, and every one of them has been torn down. There hasn't been a peep from the architecture world because the buildings, set not on city streets but behind fairground turnstiles, were always considered "installations" — not “real” buildings.
New buildings depend on context if they're to be become architecture, not just site-specific artworks competing for attention in an architectural petting zoo. Greg Pasquarelli, a principal of SHoP, one of the busiest firms in the city, recently described his firm's idea of contextual design: “Making sure that the building looks nothing like the buildings around it.” He was referring to his penchant for placing new buildings among the old, but what about ensuring that old buildings remain among the new?
When deciding what to preserve, the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission should think of some buildings — like the house on Cooper Square — as buffers, essential elements in making sure new buildings live up to their potential (to enliven, not entomb, the city).
Reactionary? Not at all. If the trend toward placing sleek contemporary buildings cheek to jowl continues, it is the contemporary buildings that will suffer most.
"Maybe, just maybe" …….. no kidding, I call it Preservation Pretense.
And although I’m but 22 years old, only lived in the East Village for some eight months, and am more privy to this neighborhood’s prolific bar scene than its historic past, I can’t help but thinking that maybe, just maybe, this sudden preservationist uproar is a bit, well, contrived.
One preservationist said to me in disgust that by the time the Bowery is fully developed, “only the wealthy and trust fund babies” would live here. Her anger seemed less directed toward 35 Cooper’s demise and more at the type of people who will ultimately live here.
But why are we fighting it? This is one of the most progressive neighborhoods in one of the most progressive cities in the world. For decades, we’ve been a haven for artists, musicians, minorities, gays, freedom fighters, beatniks, hippies. Our rich history stems from us opening our doors, to everyone, and the ever-shifting landscape that our tolerance produces.
The East Village skyline will shift, and shift again. It always has. Who’s to say this is a bad thing, or that tomorrow’s residents won’t include the next di Prima, Hendrix, or Madonna? As East Villagers, it’s our duty to remember the past. But when we reflexively cling to our past, when we use 35 Cooper Square as a scapegoat for fear and uncertainty of an unseen future, we become something altogether different.
Oh, of course, tearing down that 185-year old house will definitely make way for new housing for artists. All young and scrambling and willing to pay $2k / square foot.
To pretend that there hasn't been action by preservationists to protect parts of the Bowery going back 10 years and more is blind sightedness.
But, hey, NYC is chock full of Federal era houses. Who needs 'em?
I'd like to sodomize these schmucks with a rusty crowbar. This is a crime.
^ Ouch. Let's hope it doesn't come to that .
New hope for 35 Cooper Square
During the weekend, workers arrived at 35 Cooper Square to begin removing the sewer and water from the property...
...the next steps in the demolition of the historic building... However, there is some positive news about the home via David Mulkins, chair of the Bowery Alliance of Neighbors (BAN). City Council member Rosie Mendez's office has brokered a meeting between developer Arun Bhatia and BAN members to discuss possibly sparing the building.
Meanwhile, as we pointed out five weeks ago, workers have left the roof exposed to the elements. You may write to the developer's rep, Jane Crotty (Jane@gacnyc.com), and ask them to put the protective covering back on the rooftop.
Updated: DNAinfo reports the meeting is set for April 12.
I was sad to hear that the MTA might put is beautiful Madison Avenue hq up for sale. It will be quite sad to see those pre-WWII office towers razed over the next few years.
Preservation Advocates 'Optimistic' About Fate of Historic East Village Row House
Advocates sat down with the site's developer to talk about possibly preserving the 1825 building.
By Patrick Hedlund
EAST VILLAGE — Advocates pressing the new owner of a historic Cooper Square property to preserve the centuries-old building emerged "cautiously optimistic" after a meeting with the developer Tuesday to discuss future plans for the structure.
Local activists fighting to save 35 Cooper Square — the 1825 Federal-style row house near the corner of East 6th Street — met with developer Arun Bhatia to outline their proposal for how he could keep the building intact while still pursuing a feasible development plan for the prized East Village site.
"We sort of presented them with both our arguments for the why building is important, to kind of raise the possibility of finding some way of building on the site in such a way that would preserve the building," said Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, who attended the meeting. "They basically said they'll think about."
The three-story structure at the head of the Bowery — sandwiched between the gleaming new Cooper Union academic building and the towering Cooper Square Hotel — was once owned by a descendant of Peter Stuyvesant before housing such luminaries as Liza Minelli and Beat Generation poet Diane DiPrima.
The property sold to Bhatia for $8.5 million late last year. Shortly afterward, rumors began swirling that the developer planned to raze the 1825 building, starting with the closure of its ground-floor restaurant. Bhatia filed a demolition application last month.
The developer also scooped up two lots adjacent to the property, broadening the scope of any future development at the site. Bhatia did not comment on the demolition plans at the meeting, nor did he discuss recent work on the structure that exposed the building's roof to the elements.
"It's really too soon to say, but we were really thankful that they actually came out and met with the community," said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, who also attended the meeting.
He explained that Bhatia and his team currently have no official plan for site, based on what attendees gathered at the meeting.
"We believe that there is a way they could do development on the site and retain the building," he added. "That's from our perspective, though."
A spokeswoman for Bhatia described the meeting as "pleasant," but said that preserving the property may present challenges based on the circumstances.
"My client wanted to hear what the community had to say and show respect for the process," said spokeswoman Jane Crotty.
"They asked for us to try and retain some portions of the building at 35 Cooper Square. We told them that it is a difficult site since it is so small. Arun and his team will discuss the issues and get back to them."
The city Landmarks Preservation Commission previously declined to consider designating 35 Cooper Square a landmark, citing the addition of stucco over the building's original brickwork, a commission spokeswoman said.
The Bowery Alliance of Neighbors, which has helped lead the charge to save 35 Cooper Square, has noted that the Bowery itself has been deemed eligible for inclusion in the state and National Register of Historic Place, meaning that the building could qualify to receive tax credits if the developer decides to preserve certain historic features.
Advocates hope the meeting was a good first step in building a dialogue with the owner.
"I'm an eternal optimist and doing what we do, we have to be," Berman added. "I'm hopeful that something good can come of this that will make things better than our worst fears."
Yeah, he'll think about it and get back to them, just long enough for mold and other bad things to happen to the structure so that it will be declared unsafe for human habitation and have to be demo'd anyway....nor did he discuss recent work on the structure that exposed the building's roof to the elements.
It's all been in vain .
35 Cooper Square to be Demolished
On this beautiful spring Saturday, Vanishing NY brings the unsurprising news that 35 Cooper Square is to be demolished. Neither the preservation efforts of late nor the “meeting of the minds” had any effect on developer Arun Bhatia’s decision to raze the centuries-old Federal style building. Seemed their camp was just going through the motions to appease the community.
In any event, Jeremiah relays the official letter from the developer’s lawyer to Council Member Rosie Mendez:Arun Bhatia has asked me to report to you on the status of 35 Cooper Square. As you know, Mr. Bhatia and his development team, including a preservation architect, met on Monday, April 11, with member of you staff, representatives of other elected officials, and representatives of community and preservation groups to discuss 35 Cooper Square. Following the meeting, various massing alternatives for the site were studied to see whether it would be possible to preserve the building or any significant portions of it. As explained at the meeting, the site is very constrained, with 35 Cooper Square occupying a large and key section of the site. Unfortunately, it was concluded that it would not be feasible to develop the site with the building or any significant portion of it remaining, and that any potential relief from the BSA via a variance would not remedy the site conditions which make preservation infeasible.In other words, demolition. The property owner will reportedly donate a financial contribution to the Landmarks Conservancy to help document the histories of the endangered species of Federal buildings.
I can't even look.
Last edited by londonlawyer; June 4th, 2011 at 01:50 PM.
I walked past here 2 days ago and was so upset to see that house gone. Its historic quaintness was tremendous next to the daring hotel. Booo.
LL, I can barely look either anymore.
Almost 200 years old. Un freaking believable.