News
02.15.2010
Height Issues
New York's landmarks commission contends with uncontextual Noho tower
For a new hotel within the Noho historic district, the building's bulk is pushed back from its Bond Street frontage.
Courtesy Smith-Miller + Hawkinson

The Great Jones Hotel is a 13-story sliver building that snuck into the ground before the section of Noho surrounding it was made a historic district in the fall of 2008. The building thus did not have to undergo review by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, that is, until the developer cut so many corners in its rush to build that the LPC now gets another crack at it.

Many in the community were hoping the city would require the developer, SDS Brooklyn, to tear down its topped-out hotel and start anew. Instead, the L-shaped building on a through-lot with entries on both Great Jones and Bond streets can stand, and the commission is left with only the facade to debate.


A proposed fence on Bond Street would help maintain the street wall.
 
 

The developer was originally working with Dumbo-based TKA Studio on a wavy metallic design, but fearing that was too radical, brought in Smith-Miller + Hawkinson for the redo. The firm has had a number of envelope-pushing successes at the commission in recent years, including two for SDS. “We’re the hit-men for historic districts now,” Henry Smith-Miller said in an interview.

His proposal was to drop the metal sides in favor of stucco, and cover expansive windows with a stainless steel scrim with a pixilated leaf pattern. Smith-Miller said the leaves are a nod to Louis Sullivan’s Bayard-Condict Building on nearby Bleecker Street, while the materials and modern verve more closely resemble contemporary landmarks just down the block, including Herzog & de Meuron’s 40 Bond and Deborah Berke’s 48 Bond.

Community Board 2 broadly supported the plan in early January, requesting simply that the leaves be dropped for a more neoclassical approach. The board even supported a controversial 30-foot fence with a wavy pattern on the project’s Bond Street frontage that is intended to maintain the street wall while masking the taller building set behind it.

Despite the board’s approval, dozens of angry preservationists and neighbors turned out to the commission’s January 19 meeting on the building. “Honestly, well-designed refrigerators have more aesthetic appeal,” said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council. Others realized the futility of complaining. “I agree that this is a problematic situation,” said Peter Davies, a neighbor. “I think with some input and revisions from Smith-Miller + Hawkinson, who I believe have been given an almost impossible task here, that something good can come of this.”


Seen from Great Jones Street, the tower rises significantly above its neighbors.

The commissioners were more enthusiastic, expressing general support for the project, though they withheld a vote on it for a later date. “I think you’ve presented a very inventive solution to the problem,” Commissioner Diana Chapin said. Others suggested the community was more upset with the presence of the hotel than with the design itself, something neither neighbors nor the commission could do anything about.

“The building works in the context as best I could do,” Smith-Miller told AN. “It’s a tall building, a modernist zoning envelope basically, and there’s really only so much you can do with it.”

Matt Chaban