Math Museum Redesign Too 'Modern' for Flatiron District, Residents Say

By Mary Johnson on January 7, 2012 1:13pm 

A rendering depicts what the interior of the new Museum of Mathematics may look like when it opens at 11 E. 26th Street later in 2012.
A rendering depicts what the interior of the new Museum of Mathematics may look like when it opens at 11 E. 26th Street later in 2012.
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Museum of Mathematics

FLATIRON DISTRICT — Talk about a math problem.

The proposed redesign of a museum devoted to mathematics is too "modern" for the algorithm of the neighborhood historic district, some residents said.

At a meeting of Community Board 5's landmarks committee this week, architects representing the Museum of Mathematics — which its owners hope to name "MoMath" — presented a new design for the façade at 11 E. 26th St., the museum’s future home in the Madison Square North Historic District.

The building’s frontage is landmarked and subject to a stringent approval process before any changes can be made, and part of that process involves presenting prospective designs to the community board. While final authority over the property rests with the city's Landmarks Preservation Commission, community board input is weighed heavily in the commission’s final determinations.

On Tuesday night, the committee voted to deny the museum’s proposal.

"To me, it looks very, very modern," said committee chair Howard Mendes.


It might serve your needs in opening up the building and inviting patrons of the museum to have such a modern, well-lit and all-glass entranceway, but I don’t think it's in keeping with the design and style of buildings in the area."

Board member Ina Clark agreed.

"I think it’s beautiful, but it looks like the buildings on 57th Street," she noted, referencing the Midtown strip’s proliferation of glass-fronted retail stores.

The proposed façade of the building, constructed in 1913, would have three entrances, including one for a retail store, said Joan Krevlin of BKSK Architects, who made a presentation to the committee on behalf of the museum.

As part of Krevlin's design, the original stonework on the building would be preserved, with the Museum of Mathematics name spelled out in metal lettering attached to the stone using materials that wouldn’t damage it. The rest of the façade would consist mostly of glass, Krevlin added.

The architect also proposed adorning the original stone frame with plate bronze ribbons that would have a mathematical pattern etched on to them. The ribbons would "be respectful and mindful of the kind of bronze detail that exists framing the upper floors of the building," Krevlin said.

Architects for the new MoMath presented a potential rendering for their new facade— one that members of the Community Board 5 landmarks committee deemed too modern.
Architects for the new MoMath presented a potential rendering for their new facade— one that members of the Community Board 5 landmarks committee deemed too modern.
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Museum of Mathematics

The architect said her team latched onto whatever historic details they could when formulating the plans, but added that the building's façade does not include many elements reminiscent of its long history.

“If there were one of the more lovely historic entranceways, I think we would have done everything we could to keep it, because when they're there, they're really good and they're really important to preserve," Krevlin said. “That doesn’t exist here."

The committee acknowledged her point, but said they were still disappointed that the plans did not include more of an homage to the past.

Representatives from the museum declined to comment.

At the meeting, Krevlin made sure to emphasize the mission of the museum and the fine line it hopes to walk between education and entertainment.

“They're very afraid that people will think that math is old [and] fuddy-duddy, and they want to project something that is going to be inviting for an adolescent population," Krevlin said.

“Now I know that's not your concern here, but I just want to share that with you because they are very optimistic that they can transform how kids think about math.”

In the end, that argument wasn't enough to sway the committee members, who voted to deny the plans.

“We understand your goal here," Mendes said, “but it's a pity that you didn’t work on some detail that would be reminiscent — not necessarily a recreation — but reminiscent of the historic fabric of the neighborhood."

The resolution opposing the plans will go before the full board for approval next week. Once the full community board has passed a resolution, it will be sent to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, which has the final say in whether the museum can move forward with its new design.

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