Volume 80, Number 25 | November 18 - 24, 2010
West and East Village, Chelsea, Soho, Noho, Little Italy, Chinatown and Lower East Side, Since 1933

 

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Henry Cobb, a partner of the architectural firm, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, sent a letter to the Landmarks Preservation Commission chair Robert Tierney: “A fourth tower is profoundly destructive of the landmarked entity because it closes a composition that was intended to be open and upsets the carefully considered balance between solid and void. It also seriously compromises the generous visibility of Picasso’s Bust of Sylvette.”

N.Y.U. scraps plans for fourth tower
in landmark site after I.M. Pei objects

By ALBERT AMATEAU and JOHN W. SUTTER

In a surprise reversal on Thursday, New York University announced that it was withdrawing its Landmarks Preservation Commission application to build a 400 ft. tall fourth tower on the superblock site of three I.M. Pei-designed residential towers.

The decision was driven by a letter that Henry Cobb, a partner of the architectural firm, Pei Cobb Freed & Partners, sent to the L.P.C. on Nov. 10 saying that Pei, 93, was strongly opposed to the proposed tower on the landmarked portion of the superblock that N.Y.U. design consultants had said would complement the “pinwheel” arrangement of the Pei design.

The Cobb letter also said the firm preferred the alternate N.Y.U. proposal to build on the northwest corner of the superblock not landmarked and occupied by the Morton Williams supermarket.

N.Y.U. officials said on Thurs., Nov. 18 that the decision was made as a mark of respect for Pei’s vision and the L.P.C., which in 2008 granted landmark protection to the Pei-designed Silver Towers plaza and its three 300-ft.-tall residential buildings surrounding the 36-ft. tall rendering of Picasso’s Bust of Sylvette.

The alternative building proposed for the Morton Williams site, not yet designed, would be considerably shorter than the withdrawn proposal for the tower – about 17 -20 stories and 200 ft. tall, N.Y.U. officials said. But because the alternative site footprint is much larger, the building would have roughly the same 225,000 sq. ft. as the previous proposal.

The alternative building would also have larger floor plates than the previous design and be more suitable for academic uses, university officials said.

The original N.Y.U. plan called for a hotel in the 400 ft. tower, and the university intends to include hotel uses on an as-yet-undecided location in the larger project. Alicia Hurley, N.Y.U. vice president for government affairs and community engagement, said, "Our former proposal had four buildings and our new proposal has four buildings. With the withdrawal of the application for the tower on the landmarked site, we will keep all of the proposed uses, including hotel and housing, in the mix. All of the uses are still in play."

Lynne Brown, N.Y.U. senior vice president, said in a prepared statement, “From the beginning, we sought a design for the Silver Towers block that was most respectful of Mr. Pei’s vision. Some people disagreed with our approach, others agreed. We believed that among those who agreed was Mr. Pei himself who expressed no opposition to the concept of a tower on the landmarked site when we spoke to him directly in 2008. Mr. Pei has now had a change of heart. The clarity Mr. Pei has now provided that the Morton Williams site is preferable is helpful to us in understanding how to proceed with our Uniform Land Use Procedure proposal.”

The city ULURP will be needed for the approval of the entire NYU 2031 proposal to build up to 2.2 million sq. ft. in the two superblocks, Brown noted.

The Cobb letter to Landmarks Preservation Commission chair Robert Tierney said in part, “A fourth tower is profoundly destructive of the landmarked entity because it closes a composition that was intended to be open and upsets the carefully considered balance between solid and void. It also seriously compromises the generous visibility of Picasso’s Bust of Sylvette.”

Cobb said that the alternative proposal on the Morton Williams site was “unattractive as represented in its filing, but as an as-of-right building…is nonetheless preferable to the proposed fourth tower. Ideally, the corner building would be designed so as to make it more responsive to its neighbors and to the landmarked entity."

The N.Y.U. proposal for the landmarked site has been the target of much neighborhood opposition, and neighbors have also said they were opposed to a building on the Morton Williams supermarket site.

View a PDF of the letter sent by Mr. Henry Cobb.

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