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LPC Says New Office Building Overwhelms Historic Greenhouse

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A proposal to restore the historic Weir Greenhouse, across the street from Brooklyn's Green-Wood Cemetery, was sent back to the drawing board by the Landmarks Preservation Commission this Tuesday. Commissioners, who applauded the effort to restore the Victorian-era greenhouse, were not sold on plans to connect the greenhouse with a new, three-story building. The greenhouse, now owned by Green-Wood Cemetery, will serve as a visitor center for the cemetery and connect to office, educational, and exhibition space in the new building. "The fact that this landmark has been wasting away and is coming back is great," said Commission Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan. "But I'm still questioning some of the design choices."

This isn't the first time Green-Wood, represented by the architecture firm Page Ayres Cowley, came to the LPC with a proposal to restore the greenhouse; the commission took "no action" on an application presented in December 2013, which was later withdrawn. Since then, Green-Wood purchased two lots adjacent to the greenhouse, which is located on the corner of Fifth Avenue and 25th Street in Sunset Park. The purchase will allow Green-Wood to build out a bigger addition to the greenhouse than previously proposed.

The LPC is also working with a unique lot—only a very small portion of the new building is under the agency's jurisdiction. Above, you can see that the landmarks designation only covers the actual greenhouse building as well as two "ancillary structures" attached to the greenhouse. Both of the buildings were added sometime after the construction of the greenhouse, and Page Ayres Cowley has proposed to demolish them to accommodate the new building.

Commissioners did not take issue with demolishing the ancillary structures. But they weren't impressed with the proposal to connect the greenhouse to the new L-shaped building with a glass "hyphen." This connector would provide a 20-foot gap between the greenhouse and the new building, in an effort to make the landmark stand out. It would also be built out of glass and restored brick from the site, taking its cue from the greenhouse design.

The demolition of the ancillary buildings will also expose the west wall of the greenhouse, which will be restored. The interior will return to its former glory and be outfitted with heating and insulation.

According to a rep with Page Ayres Cowley, the design team "suppressed the height of [the new building] the best" they could in an effort not to overwhelm the greenhouse. But the consensus of the commissioners was that the hyphen and the three-story building just wasn't working.

"Give more space to the greenhouse," said Commissioner Adi Shamir-Baron, who felt the plan proposed was "not fully fleshed out." Commissioner Michael Goldblum felt the new building should better integrate with the greenhouse. "You need to develop the language of the surrounding building and then connect it." Chairwoman Meenakshi Srinivasan felt the glass hyphen should be downplayed, also noting that "the backdrop feels random."

Commissioner Frederick Bland even thought the additional building might make more sense if it had more glass. "There's nothing inherently wrong with matching a new glass building with an old glass building," he said. "The current proposal is a hodgepodge of too many things, it should be toned down."

The Historic Districts Council gave testimony that echoed the commissioner's concerns with the new building overwhelming the greenhouse. Ultimately, the commission gave its blessing of the restoration of the greenhouse as well as the demolition of the ancillary structures, but asked Green-Wood to return with a more refined proposal.
· Century-Old Brooklyn Greenhouse May Welcome Visitors Soon [Curbed]
· Weir Greenhouse coverage [Curbed]