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Landmarks Praises Updated Plans for Glassy Spring St. Retail

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Fashion company investor Ralph Bartel's plans to construct a glassy four-story retail building on a vacant Soho lot were unanimously approved by the Landmarks Preservation Commission today. The design for 144 Spring Street saw minor changes from the June presentation, but the discussion among the commissioners turned more to the future than whether the proposed building was appropriate for the present.

Ward Dennis of the preservation firm Higgins Quasebarth & Partners and Architect Frank Grauman of Bohlin Cywinski Jackson presented the updated proposal for the building, which will have two floors and two mezzanines and be built of structural glazing without metal support. The updated design accentuates the base slightly and draws inpspiration from the Lever House and Seagram Building. Dennis also pointed out that many other small lots have structures built differently from their neighbors.

Grauman noted that the size of the air handlers on the roof was reduced, that a slightly modified paneling design links the two faces of the building, and that the cornice was enlarged. He also highlighted the interior glass elevator, meant to direct people up to what he said the still-unnamed retailer called "objects of significant value, but not of significant size."

The commissioners really liked the building and approved it unanimously. New commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron said it was "innovating and testing the limits" of structural glass. She did question whether the long vacant space should be left that way, but chair Meenakshi Srinivasan pointed out that the lot was intented for a building. Of the design, Srinivasan said it "fits well." Commissioner Roberta Washington liked it, but worried about setting precedent for glass buildings to be approved, while Diana Chapin called it an "appropriate modern interpretation." Frederick Bland said he continued "to be impressed" and called it "extraordinary" and "thoughtful" and said it "fits in like a glove."

As when the building was presented in June, Bland professed his love for the interior and his hope for it to be landmarked. In order for a building interior to be landmarked, the building must have existed for 30 years and must have been accessible by the public. Here's where the discussion went to the future. This will be a transparent building and the worry is that, one day, it might be sold and the new owner would want to put up a wall and change the nature of the building. Unless an interior is landmarked, it falls outside the purview of the commission. There was reference made to the glass-heavy Apple stores. In the end, to satisfy concerns, raised largely by Bland and commissioner Michael Goldblum, the approval resolution included an amendment that any significant changes to the transparency within 24 inches of the exterior must be reviewed by the commission.
—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.
· All 144 Spring Street coverage [Curbed]
· All Landmarks Preservation Commission coverage [Curbed]