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NYU’s 2031 Plan: Towers next to Towers

July 24, 2012

If you’ve been following the efforts of NYU to secure City Council approval of its 2031 Core Plan you probably know that the Council’s Land Use Committee approved the plan with relatively minor modifications on July 17. The vote of the full Council is Wednesday July 25. The Land Use Committee vote followed a June 29 public hearing at which public comment was decidedly against approval of the plan as presented. 

Because the NYU 2031 plan affects several significant, even landmarked, Modern sites DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State submitted testimony at the June 29 hearing. Board member John Kriskiewicz joined the hundreds who testified—or waited eight hours at City Hall in hopes of testifying before close of the session. 

DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State’s testimony focused exclusively on Washington Square Village (1958–1960) and Silver Towers (originally University Village, 1964–1966), both of which would be severely impacted and compromised by the new construction in the 2031 Plan. Silver Towers and Washington Square Village are two of the city’s best examples of successful urban planning based on Modern movement theory.

Paul Lester Wiener, in association with S.J. Kessler & Sons, was architect of Washington Square Village. Weiner was partners with José Luis Sert in the firm Town Planning Associates. Together they had collaborated with Le Corbusier on a master plan for Bogotá, Colombia in the 1950s. Washington Square Village has a direct connection to Le Corbusier’s urban planning theories. The proposed plan to build two mid-rise towers in the space between the Washington Square Village’s twin apartment slabs will not only compromise the acclaimed central garden designed by Sasaki, Walker & Associates, but will obliterate the relationship of the twin apartment slabs to each other and to the connecting open space. The open space that would remain would be in shadow most of the day. Very little of the Corbusian concept of “light, air and greenery”—a hallmark of this complex—would survive. 

In 2008 the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission recognized the significance of Silver Towers with landmark designation. NYU made a bold move in 1963 hiring I.M. Pei to create a project of signature quality for its city sponsored Mitchell-Lama housing. The result was an award-winning complex of three towers pinwheeled around a monumental plaza. The careful juxtaposition of open to built space; tall to low buildings is part of Silver Towers’ success. NYU’s proposed new tower and “Zipper Building” adjacent to the site threaten Pei’s exquisitely designed urban plan. 

It is DOCOMOMO New York/Tri-State’s position that both of these superblock urban renewal sites were planned and designed as a whole. The open space and low-rise components were not only essential elements of the design, but a public benefit that justified the taller buildings on the sites. If NYU’s present proposal is executed, the “towers in the park” will simply become towers next to towers. 

July 26 update: The City Council approved the NYU plan.

NYU’s presentation of the proposed changes to the super block sites:
NYU 2031 Plan — Washington Square Village
NYU 2031 Plan — Silver Towers/University Village 

DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State Testimony (PDF)