It's usually a bad sign for architects when they show up to make a presentation at the Landmarks Preservation Commission and the place is packed. Well, it was pretty much standing room only at the LPC this week when the presentation was made for a two-story, mixed-use, glass addition to 9-19 Ninth Avenue, better known as the home of the currently-under-renovation Pastis restaurant.
The architect, BKSK Architects (a firm very familiar with the LPC), and the preservation firm, Higgins Quasebarth & Partners, delivered a long presentation of the Meatpacking District's history. They spoke of "robust discord" and an area with a lot of partial demolition, a rather "ragtag" neighborhood and an "existing building [that] is rather cobbled together." They showed renderings of more angles than one could ask for, and they even brought architectural models.
They spoke of tearing out aluminum windows and installing wood ones. They spoke of balance and proportion, of an addition that would seem to "hover" over the existing structure with glass up to only two and a half inches thick and that would be dazzling due to the varying dynamics of the sunlight. They said it would be an addition "of our time and of the area."
Then public testimony began. About a dozen people spoke, and all but one of them was against the addition. Maury Schott, who chairs the sidewalks committee for Community Board 2, which already issued an official objection to the project, said it was an overuse of glass. He called the design "feeble at best" and said it "overwhelms the historic nature of the plaza." He said that at night the addition would light up like a "lantern." He was also concerned that a fifth floor outdoor space would be used for a restaurant, though the presenters denied that would ever be its purpose.
Local resident Penny Mintz said she sees it as a means to increase area rents and said it "has nothing to do with the historic character." Far West Village resident Laura Klein called the design "garish" and said the area would be "losing the charm." Zach Weinstein objected, saying that "robust discord" could be used to "justify anything."
Amanda Davis, director of preservation and research for the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, spoke out against the project. Martica Sawin, a Jane Street resident, said that at night, the light from the illuminated glass would be disorienting to both vehicular and pedestrian traffic. Local Ritu Chattree called the proposal a "disoriented layer cake."
Amita Rodman said the "ultra modern" design would undo the interplay of the old and the new in the area. Joe Mensch appreciates the hustle and flow of the area at night, with the Gansevoort Hotel and all, but he said putting "a Bloomingdale's on top" would invite the night into the otherwise tranquil day. Cynthia Penny of Jane Street said the design was not exciting and called it "an obliteration of a historic district."
After all of that, the members of the LPC spoke. They said there was no need to "spiff up" the place. Like many of the speakers, members of the commission said there was too much glass and said that while there are two stories in the addition, you can't really tell that. One member said the ingenuity was appreciated, but it wasn't appropriate. Another echoed that, using the word "beautiful," but still saying it wasn't for this district. Another said the glass felt like a decoration. Still another found it interesting and attractive, but said it wasn't right for the location. LPC chairman Robert Tierney quoted former LPC member Richard Olcott in his objection, calling Gansevoort Plaza the city's "only true piazza."
So, the hearing was closed with no action, which means the parties will have to make changes to their designs and return to the LPC to try again.
Evan Bindelglass is a local freelance journalist, photographer, cinephile, and foodie. You can e-mail him, follow him on Twitter @evabin, or check out his personal blog.
· Board Says Glass Addition 'Makes No Sense' for MePa Building [Curbed]
· All 9-19 Ninth Avenue coverage [Curbed]
· All BKSK Architects coverage [Curbed]