It’s clear that the current plan for the expansion of the main campus of NYU is far from optimal. Construction on the existing residential superblocks will cause years of disruption to the daily lives of residents of both NYU’s housing and of the surrounding neighborhood. And, the inscription of additional building will deeply compromise the formal quality of those blocks, adding mass and density where there is no urbanistic call for it. While we understand the university’s desire to leverage the happy encounters of campus life by adding its new facilities in proximity to Washington Square, we note that many core functions of the campus are already distributed around the neighborhood and beyond and that there is elasticity in the idea of propinquity. Our question to ourselves was whether there were viable alternatives for a non-disruptive, concentrated expansion within a reasonable walking compass of NYU’s center of gravity. We believe we have found one such possibility and offer it as “friends of the court,” sympathetic to the desires of NYU for additional space, admiring of the existing architecture of the superblock sites, and eager to see our neighborhood develop in a way that both preserves and enhances its unique character, a character that immeasurably contributes to NYU’s own remarkable qualities of place.
This proposal suggests accommodating NYU’s academic expansion at the end of Houston Street on Pier 40, in the adjacent St. John’s Building, and on the legendary—and long deconsecrated—ocean liner S.S. United States (or other obsolete vessel), which could offer dorm, dining, and meeting facilities. Pier 40 has long been a site in search of a use and our scheme offers an opportunity for new university facilities, for a substantial expansion of the existing athletic fields, for other new community uses, and for a revival of our maritime spirit. We’ve designed for an aggregate of academic facilities comparable to those currently proposed by NYU and additional space for student, faculty, and visitor housing in a highly glamorous setting. The Coles Sports Center would be retained at its existing location and the superblocks would also remain as they are, perhaps with modest tweaks.
Of course, a project like this will be subject to much negotiation and review and does require the removal of the parking currently occupying the pier, a use we regard as thoroughly incompatible with the superb waterfront site. It is also contingent on transfer of all or part of Pier 40 to NYU and the acquisition of the St. John’s building and the S.S. United States, currently the subject of an RFP for re-use and previously floated as a hotel and conference venue in Philadelphia. This plan offers the advantages of non-disruption in the Village, easy access to the central campus, a spectacular location, what might well be a lower aggregate cost to the university, and a revenue stream for the Hudson River Park. While the designs offered here are highly preliminary—the drawings are more notional than architectural—and would need to be carefully contoured to actual uses and configured to reduce flooding risk, the availability of this virtual ready-made is intended to suggest the availability of sound, even superior alternatives to current plans. It is offered in full awareness of the vital role NYU plays in the life of downtown and seeks to conduce an expansion of the university’s facilities that will make a positive contribution both to NYU and its neighborhood. We would be delighted to develop it further.