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Landmarks nixes reflective topper proposed for Willem de Kooning’s former Union Square home

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The Landmarks Commission asked the design team to come back with a new proposal

DXA Studio via LPC

A reflective glass topper proposed to rise on Willem de Kooning’s former home and studio near Union Square was sent back to drawing board by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, on Tuesday.

The Commission’s verdict followed hours of public testimony, where most people spoke in opposition to the project describing it as “overwhelming,” “grotesque,” and “atrocious,” among other descriptors.

Much of that was a response to the presentation that kicked off the meeting, and was led by the architecture firm on the project, DXA Studio. Presenting for DXA Studio was one of the partners at the firm, Jordan Rogove. He described the reflective glass topper as a reinterpretation of the works of the many abstract expressionist painters that lived and worked in the building, like de Kooning.

Some local residents were far from convinced by this comparison.

“I’m appalled to hear that this could somehow elicit de Kooning,” said Anita Isola, who lives close to the proposed project at 827-831 Broadway. “His work was subtle. This is like ice, and it’s mechanical. This is not consistent with de Kooning’s work.”

Others took issue with the architect and developer’s suggestion that the recently landmarked buildings at 827-831 Broadway were more notable for their cultural significance than the architectural merit of the buildings themselves.

“The proposed addition is a wrong way to honor the history of these buildings,” said Andrew Berman, the executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation. “It is is overwhelming. The crinkled skin is jarring and the structure itself is too large.”

Community Board 2 was also in opposition to the project, and the Board’s landmarks committee chair mentioned that most local residents at the board meeting expressed opposition to the addition.

There were many who came out in support of the four-story rooftop addition too, most notably a number of art gallery owners, who praised the design and the aesthetic.

“This is a great homage to the existing building,” said Arnie Zimmerman, an art gallery owner.

“This impresses me in that the scale is exciting,” said Sally Wasserman, who lives in a building that neighbors the project.

The Landmarks Commission fell somewhere in the middle. Most commissioners praised the design and the creative interpretation by the architect, but felt that this particular addition was unsuitable for the site.

“To take inspiration from artwork is daring, but it doesn’t make it appropriate,” said Commissioner Frederick Bland.

Commissioner Michael Devonshire heaped praise on architect Jordan Rogove but said this particular reflective topper may have been more appropriate as a de Kooning museum out in a field in East Hampton.

The Commission was evenly divided on the scale of the project—some felt it was too large and too visible, but others like Chair Meenakshi Srinivasan felt there was something to be said about a visible addition to a building with this type of an artistic past. In the end the Commission decided not to take action on the project and asked the design team to come back with a revised proposal.