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Discarding Jay Street's Moribund Modernism

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When NYU takes over 370 Jay Street from the MTA, it will renovate the building in an adaptive reuse fashion. It will be a facility for the study of applied sciences, so it will likely be re-clad in extremely reflective or shiny material to emphasize the high-tech things happening within. At the time of its construction, however, 370 Jay Street was an exemplar of post-war modernism. The New York Times quotes a New Yorker article from 1953 in which archicritic Lewis Mumford wrote, "This seems to be the very model of an efficient office building. Not a cathedral of commerce, not a temple of advertising, not a palace of municipal power: just a group of offices arranged for the efficient dispatch of administration." The MTA moved most of its haven of efficiency out of the building in 2006.

370 Jay Street was designed by William E. Haugaard and Andrew J. Thomas, and built in 1950. It seems like a model of modernism for the time. More recently, architectural historian Francis Morrone appreciated a "thirteen-story limestone box with 420 equal-sized windows punched out of it like the cells of a spreadsheet." He also notes that the building stands on Corbusian pilotis, creating an arcade where people can access subway entrances away from the street. This arcade (and its unique art-deco subway signage) has been mostly obscured recently by sidewalk shed scaffolding.

It's hard to believe that the Haugaard who designed 370 Jay Street is the same architect who built the Louis J. Lefkowitz State Office Building at 80 Centre Street in Manhattan before the war. Even the restrained classicism of the neo-Egyptian style of the latter has been completely abandoned. One of the few adornments on the Brooklyn building is a memorial map that marks the locations of transit workers who served in World War II and where they died. So 370 Jay Street was an almost-clean break for post-war New York City. It was admired at the time, but now it stands in the way of further progress and has got to go.
· Remaking a Building to Make It Easier to Love [NYT]
· 370 Jay Street coverage [Curbed]