SoHo Residents Slam 'Glowing Glass Box' Design for Houston St. Building

By Andrea Swalec on September 4, 2013 12:26pm 

Slideshow
 A six-story retail and office building made of translucent brick is planned for the landmarked SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District.
Broadway and East Houston Street Building Renderings
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GREENWICH VILLAGE — The developer that bought a SoHo lot from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority earlier this summer revealed plans Tuesday night for a six-story mixed-use building made of glass bricks, which furious SoHo residents panned as better suited to Midtown than Downtown.

Madison Capital and the architecture firm Perkins Eastman showed designs for three stories of retail topped by an additional three stories of office space on the southeast corner of Broadway and East Houston Street — a lot that is currently used as a fruit stand and a MTA parking lot.

The translucent building facade, shown in renderings presented to Community Board 2's landmarks committee, was intended to "catch the spirit" of the bustling intersection, Perkins Eastman principal Navid Maqami said.

"We wanted to not be mimicking the existing buildings too much," he said. "We're interested in creating a gateway to SoHo, in a sense."

But SoHo residents who spoke at the public session held at Judson Memorial Church said the design was an insult to the purpose of the landmarked SoHo-Cast Iron Historic District, of which the new structure would be a part. The residents said the new building would be a glowing eyesore.

"This thing is going to be lit 24/7," said longtime Broadway resident and neighborhood activist Pete Davies, a member of the 80-person neighborhood association the Broadway Residents Coalition, which opposes the plan. "It's going to be a glowing glass box."

"It's like a Christmas tree or a glass ball," land use committee member Anita Brandt said.

The building designed for 19 E. Houston St. took its cues not from SoHo's defining facades and columns, but from sleeker buildings uptown, local resident Lora Tenenbaum said.

"You're forming a corridor of glass…that does not say 'Welcome to SoHo.' It says 'Welcome to Midtown,'" she said, comparing SoHo's signature architecture to a "stately dance," and the Perkins Eastman plans to a "jazzy syncopation."

The city's Landmarks Preservation Commission will have veto power over the building's design, because the lot is in a historic district. The LPC will hold a public hearing on the project Sept. 10.

At Tuesday's meeting, locals also objected to a proposal that the building be allowed to rent advertising space in its windows overlooking Broadway, spanning the entire height of the building.

"It will be an appalling billboard," SoHo resident and former CB2 member Pier Consagra said.

The building would block the huge Hollister billboard that now looms over East Houston Street.

Madison Capital bought the 6,190-square-foot triangular lot from the MTA in July for $25.825 million, after being selected through a competitive public process. The company is expected to take possession of the space in August 2014, an MTA spokesman said then.

Just east of the development site, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved plans for a seven-story retail and office building on the current site of the SoHo BP gas station and the bar Puck Fair, as DNAinfo New York reported.

CB2 will issue a resolution with its recommendations to the city regarding the Broadway and East Houston site at CB2's full board meeting Sept. 24 at 6 p.m. The meeting is set to be held at P.S. 41, located at 116 W. 11th St.

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