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Fair and Square: Johnson’s NYU Kevorkian Center on Track for Protection

May 29, 2013

At the request of DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State, the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation and others, the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission has agreed to include Philip Johnson’s Kevorkian Center in the proposed South Village Historic District. Built in 1972, the Hagop Kevorkian Center for Near Eastern Studies on the south edge of Washington Square was designed by Johnson and Richard Foster. It is one of the most distinguished—and most distinctive—of the many buildings that Johnson and Foster designed for New York University in the 1960s and 1970s.

This simple, modest structure demonstrates Johnson’s sensitivity to larger issues of urban design; in this case, he was keenly aware of how the new building would relate to its context. It actually departs from Johnson’s own master plan for the Washington Square campus of NYU, both in terms of its scale and materials. Rather than rising to the 12-story height of Johnson’s Bobst Library, the small building conforms to the height of its neighboring structures. Sitting on a corner lot, the brown granite façade completes the row of buildings along the southern edge of Washington Square.

This is the purpose of historic districts—to assure that new buildings in historic context do what Johnson’s building does. As NYU embarks on its ambitious plan for growth and development around Washington Square, it is critically important to save buildings like the Kevorkian Center, which has been a vital piece of the urban fabric of Greenwich Village for some 40 years.

In a letter of May 2, 2013, to DOCOMOMO NY/Tri-State, the chair of the Landmarks Preservation Commission wrote, “As you know, the Kevorkian Center is a critically well-received modern building designed by noted architects,” and “will be recommended to the full Commission for inclusion within the proposed South Village Study Area.”

JUST ANNOUNCED: The LPC has calendared the South Village Historic District Phase II. The public hearing is set for June 25.

Hagop Kervorkian Center, NYU, Philip Johnson and Richard Foster, 1972. image: GVSHP/google images.