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Thread: Synagogue for the Arts - Tribeca

  1. #1
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    Default Synagogue for the Arts - Tribeca

    Synagogue to Alter 'Floating' Facade

    TribecaTrib
    By Carl Glassman
    JULY 3, 2006

    Tribeca was a very different place in the 1960s, when William Breger designed the Civic Center Synagogue at 49 White St. For one thing, the architect could insert his unique, flame-shaped creation onto a block of 19th-century loft buildings without a thought to what the Landmarks Preservation Commission would say. Tribeca’s historic districts were still decades away.

    The synagogue did not need space for a Hebrew school because there were few families in the area, just workers in the nearby warehouses and municipal offices who needed a place to pray during the day. And, of course, it was some 30 years before terrorism would happen here.

    The building’s expansive plaza—above which the synagogue’s curved, white marble facade appears to float—seemed to offer the solution.




    With a $75,000 “target hardening” grant administered by the state’s Department of Homeland Security, the synagogue plans to build a nine-foot-high, shatter-proof glass wall that would enclose about two-thirds of the plaza. The building will also be expanded into the space behind the wall with new classrooms, an office and a chapel, constructed at the synagogue’s expense.

    That will change the look of Breger’s noted design, which received the American Institute of Architects Honor Award and has been displayed at the Museum of Modern Art.

    “We’re going to hear about it from the architecture community,” said the synagogue's rabbi, Jonathan Glass. “But we have no choice.”

    There was one member of that community who they would surely hear from: the architect, Breger. Still practicing at the age of 83, he had yet to be told of the synagogue’s plans.

    With the rabbi’s knowledge, a Trib reporter called the architect for his reaction to the proposed expansion. In a telephone interview, and in a meeting with the reporter at the synagogue the next day, Breger spoke of his shock and anger.

    “They pride themselves in being an art synagogue,” he said. “Now to reduce the impact of the art is unconscionable.”

    “This is a building suspended between two walls, and that’s the aesthetic, that’s why the shape takes the form that it does,” Breger explained. “If you break that up by giving any sense of support, whatever it is, you will lose the impact of the building 100 percent.”

    Breger, an inactive member of the synagogue’s board of trustees who has rarely attended services there, said he is “not sure” whether he could take legal action to thwart the plan. “I would explore that,” he said. “That’s how strongly I feel.”




    As a student at Harvard, Breger studied with Walter Gropius, founder of the Bauhaus school of architecture. He chaired the Pratt Institute’s Department of Architectural Design for 24 years and is internationally known as an innovative designer of long-term nursing facilities. But nothing in his long career, he said, compares to the pride he feels towards the synagogue.

    “It is the only building I’ve done where I could really express myself,” he said.
    The synagogue’s leaders said they, too, value the character of the building and want to preserve it.

    “There is a very, very strong feeling within the board that the structure we have is our most valuable resource,” said Fabian Friedland, the synagogue’s president. “Not only from the point of view that it is a building we can use, but because of its unique design.

    Shael Shapiro, the architect for the buildout and a member of the synagogue, called the proposed change “clearly consistent” with Breger’s vision.

    “I think what we’re proposing works architecturally and respects the building and yet it allows the synagogue to meet its needs,” he said.

    “It is the only building I’ve done where I could really express myself,” he said.
    The synagogue’s leaders said they, too, value the character of the building and want to preserve it.

    It will be up to the Landmarks Commission to decide whether the change to the building, located in the Tribeca East Historic District, is appropriate. Last month, Shapiro appeared before Community Board 1’s Landmarks Committee for advisory approval but the committee tabled the request, saying they wanted to see a more complete presentation.

    “The building is near and dear to everyone in the neighborhood,” said the committee’s co-chairman, Bruce Ehrmann.

    The synagogue was built in 1967, on land given to it in exchange for property at its previous location, 80 Duane St., where Federal Plaza was to be built. It cost less than $600,000. “I charged them only my expenses,” Breger said.

    Utility space in the basement was turned into three classrooms for a Hebrew school. But as the neighborhood grew, the congregation wanted to expand its school above ground, as well as accommodate other community groups that use the synagogue for toddler play space. At the end of 2004 they learned that funds were available from the Department of Homeland Security for non-profit institutions “at high risk of international terrorist attack.” A security analysis commissioned by the synagogue suggested that they qualified.




    While the synagogue would raise its own money to expand, the glass enclosure, serving as an outer wall and paid for by the grant, seemed to fit nicely into their plans. But congregants insist that the safety that the Homeland Security money will buy is a real need.

    “We’re the only synagogue down here and people feel we’re too vulnerable,” said Toby Turkel, the synagogue’s executive vice president. “So our solution is to build an enclosure with security cameras, the whole schmear.”

    Breger disagreed. “I don’t understand the need for better security. I put the fence in it to keep it from being vandalized. If the fence isn’t strong enough I’d put plastic attached to the fence to make it stronger.”

    He said that the synagogue was wrong to use the government money to help meet its needs to expand, and that it could solve its space requirements in other ways, such as trading air rights with another building on the block in exchange for use of space in that building.

    “If I built St. Peters and I needed more room I hardly would add to it,” he said. “I would find room elsewhere.”

    Fabian Friedland said he questioned whether there were other workable solutions to the synagogue’s need to expand. Because the area is landmarked, building higher on the block would be difficult, he noted. But having learned of Breger’s anger over the plan, he said the synagogue quickly decided to put its application to the Landmarks Commission on hold, pending a meeting with Breger.

    On June 30, he called the architect and apologized for not including him in the process.

    “I screwed up,” Friedland confessed, adding that he had hoped to get a feel for Landmarks’ position on the expansion plan before contacting Breger.

    “Now we’ll review everything,” he said. “We’re not discounting anything.”

  2. #2
    Disgruntled Optimist lofter1's Avatar
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    I find it amusing that this building which everybody --Landmarks Commission, Tribeca community-- wants to preserve could almost certainly not be built from scratch if it was proposed today as new construction. Can you imagine the opposition to such a disruptive and uncontextual design?

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    A Public Hearing at Landmarks regarding the proposed changes to this building on July 25:

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  5. #5

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    I think that's a real shame. Years before I came to NY I was flicking through a book af architecture images and that building just jumped out at me. It's very cool and blocking in the bottom would severely detract from it.

  6. #6

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    I like the building , but the plaza in front - and the gates blocking it - suck

  7. #7
    The Dude Abides
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    More from http://cityrealty.com/new_developments:

    Security concerns affect design of TriBeCa's very modern synagogue 10-JUL-06



    The Synagogue for the Arts, which is also known as the Civic Center Synagogue, is one of New York City’s most radical and modern structures.

    It is tucked away at 49 White Street in TriBeCa in the middle of the attractive block of cast-iron 19th Century buildings between Church Street and Franklin Place, three blocks south of Canal Street.

    Designed by William N. Breger Associates in 1969, its vertically curved façade conjures a yoyo in motion hovering above the ground.

    It is set back in a plaza and a large part of the building overhangs the entrance that leads to a rear garden. The plaza has a cast-iron fence in front of it.

    The synagogue now wants to enclose some of the open space beneath the overhang and a hearing has been scheduled on the proposal for July 25 at the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

    On June 20, 2006, Community Board 1 voted to recommend that the commission “remove this application from the scheduled hearing in July, giving the applicant the opportunity to further develop the proposal and allow CB#1 the opportunity to review the final revised application.”

    “This magnificently designed building has gone through changes in uses over the years as well as water damage problems but is a marvelous example of the varied nature of architecture in TriBeCa,” the resolution read, noting that the applicant “seeks to enclose 281 of the presently floating, open ceiling on the flat portion of the first floor to provide more space for cultural uses” and is “also seeking to increase the security of the building, “although the Committee felt this was a very secondary and low priority issue compared with ensuring the modification does not detract from the wonderful design.” The landmarks committee of the community board voted 10 to 0 on the resolutions that were then was unanimously adopted by the full board.

    “The committee felt the design, using strong aluminum mullions was overly complicated and detracted from the current floating feel of the front wall” and also “felt that a more appropriate – light, open and floating design could be made, particularly if the security issues – forcing the use of strong aluminum mullions and shatter proof glass was reconsidered,” the resolution maintained. According to the resolution the applicant agreed to work further on the design.

    “A flame is supposed to come to your mind when looking at the bulbous front,” observed David W. Dunlap in his fine book,, “From Abyssinian to Zion, A Guide to Manhattan’s Houses of worship,” which was published in 2004 by Columbia University Press. Mr. Dunlap noted that the “home of Congregation Shaare Zedek (a different group from that on West 93rd Street), may look more than a marble-clad pot-bellied stove, but at least it represents an effort to use a distinctively modernist vocabulary for a house of worship…and it does have some sublime moments; for instance, the building seems to float overhead as you approach it.

    A July 3, 2006 article by Carl Glassman in the TriBeCa Trib notes that “with a $75,000 “target hardening” grant administered by the state’s Department of Homeland Security, the synagogue plans to build a nine-foot-high, shatterproof glass wall that would enclose about two-thirds of the plaza,” adding that “The building all also be expanded in to the space behind the wall with new classrooms, an office and a chapel, constructed at the synagogue’s expense.”

    In his fine article, Mr. Glassman interviewed the architect, William Breger, who described the proposed change as “unconscionable,” adding that “this is a building suspended between two walls, and that’s the aesthetic, that’s why the shape takes the form that it does…If you break that up by giving any sense of support, whatever it is, you will lose the impact of the building 100 percent.”

    Shael Shapiro is the architect for the proposed change.

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