It was a busy archi-spring night last night. The Municipal Arts Society held their debate on NYU’s 2031 expansion plan, the AIDS Memorial exhibit opened at the Center for Architecture, and Ralph Walker: Architect of the Century opened at the newly re-dubbed Walker Tower on West 18th Street. Read on for highlights of the MAS debate and to view few photos from the Center and Walker Tower…
The MAS debate was the most sober event of the evening with a panel packed with academic all stars. The NYU opponents applauding statements they found to their liking lent the debate the air of a souped-up community board meeting. Nevertheless, it was refreshing to hear ideas cleanly teased out by moderator John Alschuler, of HR&A, the real estate/economic advisory firm. The community had an informed voice on stage in CB2 Chair Brad Hoylman. His point of view was largely backed up by Pratt’s Ron Shiffman, while NYU’s Hilary Ballon and Penn’s Gary Hack tipped the balance back in favor of NYU.
Alschuler got the ball rolling by stating “nobody loves the Coles Gymnasium,” the bland brick bunker on the corner of Houston and Mercer, and that “some level of change is going to come there,” partly in the form of a hotel in the so-called Zipper Building. This immediately spurred Schifman to respond that there is little need for a hotel on the campus as NYC has plenty already. “People can get on the subway, why are we protecting them,” he said of the NYU visitors. “That’s a formula for disaster.” Hack argued that at Penn they began their expansion with a hotel, because that’s what visiting academics need most—a place to stay on campus. While Ballon, who is based at NYU Abu Dhabi, said the university’s international franchises mean they need a hotel more than ever.
In the end, the southern super block with its two towers was the source of less tension, as opposed to the proposed Boomerang Buildings on the northern superblock. Schiffman went so far as to say that he likes the Kimmelman plan, which would keep the below grade space but nix the above grade structures. But Hack said the new proposal, including the buildings, would open the superblock up and provide better circulation. He added that the additional space would give students a place to gather instead of meeting at “third place haunts” like Starbucks. Hoylman said the north block proposal would more likely become a student thoroughfare, not a neighborhood square. “This is about NYU solving an identity crisis; they get their quad,” he said.