Today Lower Manhattan is having a renaissance as a vibrant hub complete with striking new architecture, from the rising World Trade Center complex a few blocks west to Frank Gehry’s twisting residential tower at 8 Spruce Street. Over the next few years the streets around City Hall will become even livelier, as almost 1,300 Pace University students settle into two new residential towers, one under construction at 180 Broadway and another recently announced for 33 Beekman Street.
Pace, a private university which got its start in 1906 holding accounting classes for a dozen students in space rented in the New York Tribune Building (the university later bought the old New York Times Building at 41 Park Row), now caters to over 13,000 students in graduate and undergraduate programs. Many attend its Manhattan campus, housed in a collection of buildings just to the east of City Hall Park. More than 600 Pace students who require housing cross the river each day to dorms the university leases in Brooklyn Heights.
William McGrath, senior vice president and chief administrative officer of Pace, said the school wants to begin to foster a new “24-hour learning environment” by promoting learning outside the classroom and, thus consolidating Pace’s urban campus. Students focusing on history, for example, could be clustered on a dorm hall with an apartment housing a member of the history faculty, who would organize extracurricular activities related to students’ interests.
However, Pace’s innovative approach to learning is not necessarily reflected in the design of its new dorms. Pace seized two recent opportunities to work with publicly held developer SL Green on the creation of residential towers close to its Manhattan home base.
As developer and owner of 180 Broadway, which will open to 600 students in the fall of 2013, SL Green proposed architect Karl Fischer, best known for his generic series of condo towers in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Fischer’s 24-story building includes retail at the base, part of a serviceable but workaday design that evokes the neighborhood’s recent past rather than its future. For 33 Beekman, a project co-developed with the Harel Group and the Naftali Group, SL Green chose Gene Kaufman Architect, whose own 32-story Beekman Tower will gamely take its place beside Gehry’s Beekman Tower and house 700 students by 2015. “We’re trying to be a good neighbor. We want to create a dialogue with the surroundings,” said Kaufman, whose brick-clad building is accented with curved metal panels in homage to Gehry.
As it has in the past, Pace’s urban campus continues to grow organically, with function taking precedence over form. Although the university may have a progressive approach to student life and learning, that does not yet extend to architecture, a position best expressed by McGrath when asked about the choice of architects: “We were pleased with them, they had good experience in the field.”