That complex/buildings is no landmark although the Picasso sclupture is.
I. M. Pei’s Silver Towers Could Become a Landmark
By Sewell Chan
February 11, 2008, 3:32 pm
The Landmarks Preservation Commission is expected on Tuesday to schedule a hearing on whether to designate Silver Towers/University Village, a concrete complex designed by I. M. Pei that was part of Robert Moses’s vast urban renewal program, as a historic landmark. Preservationists have urged such a move, arguing that New York University’s proposed campus expansion could some day threaten the towers, which sit at the edge of the university’s campus in Greenwich Village.
The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation first proposed that Silver Towers be designated a landmark in 2003, and built a coalition that included residents of the complex, local and national preservation organizations and elected officials to support the idea. One of the complex’s three towers, 505 LaGuardia Place, is a middle-income cooperative, where the owners and residents supported the landmark designation. New York University, which owns the other two towers and has suggested developing as many as one million square feet on the site of the original “superblock,” had opposed landmark designation, but has since relented.
The university’s president, John Sexton, said in a statement today:
The planning principles on which we collaborated with local elected officials and community groups are the standards to which we expect to be held. We believe this step is an important one that demonstrates our respect for the ‘ecosystem’ in which our University exists. Both we and our partners took a major step in developing a relationship of trust last week; we think the action we are announcing today makes real our intention to continue building that trust.The site of the complex was originally part of a 40-acre urban planning site bounded by West Fourth Street, Spring Street, Sixth Avenue and Mercer Street. In 1963, New York University took over 5½ acres of that site to develop a middle-income housing project, with one-third of the apartments for people who lived or worked in Greenwich Village and the rest for university staff members and their families.
“The completed project, finished in 1966, consists of three towers with bold concrete sculptural gridded facades grouped around a monumental plaza,” the Landmarks Preservation Commission said in a statement. “Silver Towers was the culmination of a series of designs started by Pei in 1953 which aimed to bring concrete construction to a new level of refinement and economy.
The complex’s gridded wall reveals the module of the interior rooms and integrated the mechanical systems by setting air-conditioning vents into the spandrels. The pinwheel site place of the towers, together with the deeply set windows created an animated, sculptural composition. Each tower is oriented differently and preserves sight lines along the city streets.”
At the center of the plaza is a giant sculpture by Carl Nesjar, a reinterpretation of Pablo Piccaso’s “Portrait of Sylvette.” Nesjar executed the work on site, using concrete with sandblasted black Norwegian stone aggregate, while Picasso advised him on translating the original small metal sculpture to a new scale and material and on the placement of the work.
According to the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, the sculpture is one of only two public outdoor Picasso sculptures in the Western hemisphere. (The other is the giant, unnamed steel sculpture at the Daley Center in Chicago.)
Silver Towers won numerous awards, and was named one of “10 Buildings That Climax an Era” by Fortune magazine in 1966. It also won the American Institute of Architect’s National Honor Award, the City Club of New York’s Albert S. Bard Award and the Concrete Industry Board Award. In 1983, Silver Towers was cited when Mr. Pei won the Pritzker Prize for his architectural career to date.
Copyright 2007 The New York Times Company
That complex/buildings is no landmark although the Picasso sclupture is.
I fully agree. It is so obvious that Andrew Berman's GVSHP's real intention here is to prevent NYU from building on the complex.
The community groups are right.
And can we give credit where credit is due? After all, it wasn't also for them, what WOULD the Village look like today?
Keep this complex pristine. Especially considering the damage NYU has already done recently.
The complex is very beautiful. And they certainly are landmark worthy. ( and OF COURSE I would have rather had the small buildings that these most likely replaced, but that is another story...).
BTW: They have cousins in Philadelphia. Those in Philly are on the Philadelphia Register of Historic Places:
I find your statement duplicitous; this is a Robert Moses housing project that surely replaced hundreds of beautiful old buildings. These towers in the park are a scourge on the city landscape, it is the beautiful old buildings that these towers replaced that define the village, why landmark a mistake?
Further I'd rather have NYU expand on this ugly concrete wasteland than destroying more beautiful old buildings and churches throughout the city which is there current program.
I agree, allow them space where the buildings there presently wont be missed as much as more beautiful older structures.
They are simply among the most attractive modernist apartment buildings in the city. This is good architecture.
Muschamp in the NYTimes:
"...I. M. Pei's stylized Brutalist residential buildings, Silver Towers and Kips Bay Plaza, are major works of the postwar decades..."
"Silver Towers won numerous awards, and was named one of “10 Buildings That Climax an Era” by Fortune magazine in 1966. It also won the American Institute of Architect’s National Honor Award, the City Club of New York’s Albert S. Bard Award and the Concrete Industry Board Award. In 1983, Silver Towers was cited when Mr. Pei won the Pritzker Prize for his architectural career to date.
These BTW, predate the Pei Society Hill Towers by about 5 years... yet the towers in Philly have been landmarked since 1999.
I wish architect critics would look at projects for themselves instead of playing the architect name game. These are housing projects, they have no context with the village, they are entirely set apart from the city, the fascade is cold and monotnous. IM Pei is probably the most overrated architect of all time.
These ARE set apart from the city... they are bad urban planning.... yet they are ALSO great architecture.
The UN building, the Seagrams Building (to name just two)... are also bad urban planning, but they are also great works of art.
And yes, the facade IS cold ...as are so many things that are chic and elegant happen to be.
Their closer relatives are the 1971 Harbor Towers in Boston.
Of course they are also hated:It's often been said, in fact, that the best thing about living in the Harbor Towers is that you don't have to look at the Harbor Towers. In the '90s, the city rezoned the waterfront so nothing like them could ever be built there again; the changes now limit building heights and require projects to include more open space and access to the waterfront. While it'd be easy to attribute the hostility to the familiar chasm between architectural taste and popular appeal, even Henry Cobb, the buildings' I. M. Pei–affiliated architect—who went on to build his masterwork, the John Hancock Tower, in Boston—is inclined to agree with the mob. "I do not regard Harbor Towers as my best effort in Boston," Cobb says via e-mail. "I am sympathetic to those who believe that in the perspective of history this could be seen as the wrong project in the wrong place at the wrong time."
I would MUCH rather look at the artistic and timeless Harbour Towers than the already dated post-modern mish-mash that has grown up around them.
Be that as it may: no, their closer relative, design-wise are the Sociey Hill Towers.
Fine design... Harbour Towers vs Perry Street:
The buildings which used to sit on these blocks where both Washington Square Village (1958) and Pei's Silver Towers (1963) now stand were basically the same masonry & cast iron buildings you still find east in NoHo and south into SoHo. It's hard to find photos of how this neighborhood looked circa 1955. Jackson Pollack lived at 76 Houston (near Wooster) in the mid-1930s.
Here's a quaint little thing that apparently sat on Bleecker near Mercer back around 1870:
Interestingly the original NYU redevelopment plan for these new super blocks called for a third WSV-like slab to be built where the three Pei towers rose, with low rise building creating a street wall along the north side of Houston Street.
For those who are not fans of the existing buildings a visit to the NYU drawing board might be of interest. [ Document with lots of drawings HERE -- pdf !! ] NYU's recent proposal for future growth offers multiple plans for "in-fill" buildings whch would rise between the two slabs of WSV (see below), in the open space around the STs and on the site where the low-rise Coles recreation building now stands along Mercer (between Houston & Bleecker). CURBED has a full report.
I have no doubt that City Planning will make some adjustments to existing zoning to allow NYU go build taller / bigger in the immediate area -- which I suspect is one reason for NYU's change of heart about giving Landmark status to the 3 Silver Towers (see City Realty article below).
NYU says it now supports landmark designation
of its I. M. Pei Towers
New York University announced today that it would support the designation of the high-rise Silver Towers complex designed by I. M. Pei as official city landmarks.
The three towers were built in 1967 and the Landmarks Preservation Commission indicated today on its website that it has scheduled a calendaring meeting for tomorrow on the two Silver Towers that the university owns and principally house faculty members and a third tower where the university leases the tower to the 505 LaGuardia cooperative corporation.
The three towers surround a large sculpture by Pablo Picasso in a plaza and they are on the north side of Houston Street between West Broadway and Mercer Streets.
In a statement, John Sexton, the university's president, said, that "The planning principles on which we collaborated with local elected officials and community groups are the standards to which we expect to be held. We believe this step is an important one that demonstrates our respect for the 'ecosystem' in which our University exists. Both we and our partners took a major step in developing a relationship of trust last week; we think the action we are announcing today makes real our intention to continue building that trust."
The university had announced an agreement recently with locally elected officials and community groups on principles for a planned expansion of 6 million square feet over the next 25 years.
Subsequently, it disclosed details of some of the expansion plans under consideration including filling in much of the open spaces of two major and famous "tower-in-the-park" housing complexes it owns south of Washington Square Park.
The agreement stated that it will pursue re-use of existing buildings before developing new facilities as well as creating academic and residential centers outside of the Washington Square Park area where it is based and where it has been expanding significantly in recent years.
Mr. Sexton's remarks did not mention the university's plans for another major complex it owns nearby, Washington Square Village, which consists of two very long and handsome slab apartment buildings with colorful facades and sculptural roof elements designed by Paul Lester Weiner in association with S. J. Kessler & Sons in 1960.
"To compromise for the superscale of the slabs and their comparative anonymonity, Weiner and the landscape architects, Sasaki, Walker & Associates, attempted to humanize the open spaces with lavish plantings as well as fountains and ingeniously designed street furniture," Robert A. M. Stern, Thomas Mellins and David Fishman noted in their book, "New York 1960, Architecture and Urbanism Between the Second World War and the Bicentennial." The university document discussed "filling in the superblock" and presented three "concepts" that would insert new academic and residential buildings between the two Washington Square Village buildings and "attempts to utilize them as a 'buffer' between the new development and the surrounding area. In the 30-page document presented at an "open house" about its expansion plans last week, the university noted that feedback from the community indicated that "the University must achieve a balance between adding density within its current property footprint and expanding beyond that footprint." The university's document said that it "will eek to utilize and renovate existing buildings prior to seeking development sites for new buildings." It stated that "the South Blocks between Houston and West 3rd Street could accommodate up to approximately 2.5 million additional gross square feet above and below grade," adding that "This is the greatest future opportunity for additional space on NYU-owned property."
wow, what great research (as usual)... thanks.