Site Changes at I.M. Pei’s Silver Towers approved by the LPC
April 26, 2011
On April 5, the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved NYU’s proposed renovations and alterations to the landmarked Silver Towers/University Village site (I.M. Pei & Associates, 1960–1967). On the commendable side, NYU will replace unsympathetic fences with less obtrusive low rails, repair and restore concrete site walls, benches and pavements, plant new trees to fill gaps in the grid of oak trees along Bleecker Street and bring back the oh-so-sixties multi-globe light fixtures.
On the negative side, changes to the playground areas and walkways result in significant departures from the Pei site design. Two stages of play areas were designed by the original architects to complement the towers-in-the-park plan. One of these playgrounds is to be replaced with a dog run, which pushes a new playground with high vertical elements and fencing onto the flat lawn directly south of the east tower. This change disrupts the basic site composition in which geometric towers rise from a foreground of flat green lawns. (FYI, the dog run had to be moved because NYU is plans to put a new building on the site of the current dog run.) Additionally, the Greene Street walkway is being shifted out of alignment with the street grid to the south and the Washington Square Village driveway portal to the north. The continuation of the street grid through the superblock was an important detail of the original design—not to mention that the move places the walkway entirely outside the boundaries of the landmarked site.
In its testimony DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State did not specifically oppose or support the proposal, but urged the Commission to request modifications to address the shortcomings of the proposal. Unfortunately this did not happen. The commissioners present were apparently swayed by the commendable aspects of the plan and willing to let these detrimental changes come with the deal.