NYU may have scrapped their scheme for a 40-story building rising amidst Silver Towers, I.M. Pei's landmarked trio of brutalism on Bleecker Street, but that doesn't mean that Big Purple has forgotten the lush face lift they envision for the complex's surrounding open space. The team behind the controversial NYU 2031 expansion plan met with Community Board 2 last night (before an eventual run-in with the Landmarks Preservation Commission) to show off their designs for a new dog run, a toddler playground and lots of landscaping. Of course the neighborhood turned out in force.
Matt Urbanski of Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates did the heavy lifting, explaining that the design inspiration came from gardens by Le Corbusier and Roberto Burle Marx. But the residents in one of the three landmarked towers were having none of it; they like things just the way they are. Their tower at 505 LaGuardia Place is a co-op and not the property of NYU, and these folks were instrumental in getting Silver Towers and the surrounding site landmarked. Despite NYU's pretty pictures and fancy talk, the Village commandos weren't impressed. And they suspect something nefarious is lurking in NYU's garden.
The original 1966 plan for Silver Towers included some greenery along West Houston Street. A little playground with a boxy pit of sand was added in the 70s, all enclosed by thick concrete walls. Over the years tall fences were added and paths were cut across the expanse of lawns, diminishing the simplicity of Pei's plan. In addition to the new play areas, with long sinuous benches where mothers and others can keep an eye on the little ones, the design includes new globe-topped street lamps matching the originals, swapping the ungainly six-foot fences with low fencing around the perimeter, and installing a dog run where the sand box now sits along West Houston. A wide tree-lined pedestrian passageway would extend along the east side of the site, following the de-mapped path of Greene Street that is now blocked by the bricks of NYU's Coles Athletic Center.
Big Purple wants to tear down Coles and replace it with what they call the Zipper Building, a new 17-story stack of residences and classrooms. But that building hasn't been approved, and to make the project viable NYU needs to get a strip of public land fronting the athletic center along Mercer Street between Bleecker and Houston, now home to a community dog run, a playground and gardens. When NYU built the Coles Center in the 1980s it agreed to maintain those public spaces, but the playground has been closed for years and the locals feel cheated. They see NYU's latest plan as a ploy to grab the public land and gain approval for their big new building, with the foreseeable future filled by construction that can't be enjoyed by kids or canines.
Villagers also want to know what the legendary Pei thinks of all changes to his landmarked plan. NYU claims he's on board, but they tried that once before - only to be shot down by a public letter of disapproval from Pei himself. How this next phase of NYU expansion will turn out no one knows. The battle on Bleecker Street could be a long one. Ultimately, spiritual intervention may be needed.
· BREAKING: NYU Drops 40-Story Tower, But Here Comes Plan B! [Curbed]
· Sneak Peek at Greenwich Village's Urban Jungle, Courtesy of NYU [Curbed]
· All NYU Expansion coverage [Curbed]