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News April 2011

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Washington Square Village complex granted eligibility for State and National Register listing

April 26, 2011

Another Greenwich Village superblock is making news. The New York State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) recently ruled Washington Square Village, the double-slab apartment complex just north of Silver Towers, eligible for the State and National Registers of Historic Places. The ruling includes the elevated landscaped plaza at the center of the complex, one of the earliest parking structure roof gardens in the country. The SHPO evaluation notes that the complex meets “Criterion C” as an impressive example of postwar urban renewal planning and design.

Washington Square Village (WSV) was part of Robert Moses’ Title 1 Washington Square Southeast redevelopment. It was constructed between 1957 and 1960 as middle-income housing by a private developer who sold the entire complex to New York University in 1963. In a superblock bounded by Mercer Street and La Guardia Place east and west, the parallel 17-story apartment slabs edge the block along W. 3rd Street and Bleecker Street. The long apartment blocks are recognizable by what Robert Stern, writing in New York 1960, called their “Le Corbusian exuberance.” White platform balconies pop from façade walls faced in either blue, yellow or red glazed brick. The rooftop mechanicals are behind 30-foot undulating sculptural enclosures. The overall massing of the apartment blocks and the use of tall pilotis relate to Le Corbusier’s Unite d’Habitation in Marseilles.

The complex was designed by Paul Lester Wiener working with S.J. Kessler & Sons Architects. Wiener had a design and urban planning partnership with José Luis Sert and much of the firm’s postwar work was in South America, often working with Le Corbusier. WSV was Wiener’s largest commission in the U.S. (The Kessler firm left the project during the early stages.) The 1.5-acre landscaped central plaza—now overgrown and altered—was a prominent component of the overall superblock design. The gardens were designed by Sasaki, Walker & Associates of Cambridge, MA. Hideo Sasaki and Peter Walker were professors at Harvard’s Graduate School of Design; Sasaki served as chair of Harvard’s Landscape Architecture Department from 1958-1968.

The eligibility ruling is especially newsworthy as NYU plans to begin the public approval process next month for two buildings it plans to erect on the superblock between WSV’s original buildings. Preliminary designs show curving, slightly conical massing for both buildings, one eight-stories and one fourteen. While the eligibility ruling holds no actual protections for the original superblock buildings and plaza, NYU’s potential use of State Dormitory Authority funds would trigger a further review of its plans by the SHPO in addition to approvals needed from the Landmarks Preservation Commission, City Planning Commission and City Council. Stay tuned for future news on this superblock.