Landmarks panel blasts Canal Street proposal

Rendering via Paul A. Castrucci Architect
Described by one local architect as “a big mess of brick,” the mixed-use development proposed for 312-322 Canal Street went down in flames at a June 6 meeting of the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

BY JACKSON CHEN

A proposed nine-story development on Canal Street was hit with waves of criticism and complaints during a Landmarks Preservation Commission meeting on June 6.

Several neighbors voiced their disapproval of the project, which would create a nine-story residential building with ground-floor commercial space to replace the row of empty two-story buildings at 312-322 Canal Street. Testimony from the residents was followed by a fierce review from the commissioners, who felt it was inappropriate for the block — and the Tribeca East Historic District the site resides in.

The proposed building, designed by the firm Paul A. Castrucci Architect, features a red-brick exterior with glass panels stretching across the ground floor. According to the website listing, “the project enters into a critical dialogue with its surrounding context” drawing inspiration from the historic district and the building’s history. Andy Vann, the architect handling the project, said the choice of red brick was deliberate effort to fit in with the historic district.

“Our proposal for a … mixed-use residential-commercial building on the site keys into references from the district to produce a contemporary building both aesthetically and technically,” Vann said at the meeting.

But the residents and commissioners weren’t convinced, and concluded that a nine-story development was way out of context for the neighborhood. Ingo Maurer, a lighting designer and resident of Lispernard Street, said during the LPC meeting that the proposed building’s rhythm, materials, and overpowering scale were horrible for the neighborhood.

“This is not architecture. This is another scar of the face of the city, glued-together bits of brick to create a pretend New York. What we need is more real,” Maurer said.

James Sanders, an architect and neighbor to the site, said the fact that the development would tower two stories over the block’s other buildings was just part of then problem.

“Beyond that, it’s not just a question of height,” Sanders said. “It’s a very wide site because it’s five houses. We’re talking about a building that’s both tall and wide. It’ll be a big mess of brick and is really going to tip the balance.”

After discovering the renderings a couple months ago, Sanders and several like-minded tenants of a Lispernard Street building began organizing their opposition. The tenants have been working to garner more attention and support for their cause, while also retaining a structural engineer to study the expected impact on their building, Sanders said.

Community Board 1 is in full agreement with the neighbors, as it passed a scathing resolution during its May full board meeting, urging rejection by the Landmarks Preservation Commission.

“In this instance, it is necessary to state without mincing words that the proposed design is unacceptable on almost every level,” the resolution read. “The aluminum and glass storefront seems to run for miles and is completely out of context for the historic district.”

CB1’s resolution added that the architect didn’t show enthusiasm for the project. And it wasn’t the firm’s first crack at renovating the space, as the same architect had previously offered up plans for strip-mall style storefronts, and was told in 2011 to return with a better design after receiving a no-action decision filled with commissioner suggestions. Prior to that, the existing storefronts were illegally redone in late 2010 to a plain red-brick exterior.

The new design ultimately wasn’t rejected outright during the June 6 LPC meeting, despite the harsh critique, with the panel again opting instead to take no action on the project.

“I would have to agree with a lot of the testimony, I think it’s completely inappropriate,” said LPC chairwoman Meenakshi Srinivasan. “It seems like a big, monolithic, uninteresting tower, quite frankly. The storefront is so generic and has no personality whatsoever.”

Srinivasan compared the ground-floor retail to a “big shopping mall storefront” and added the overall design misses the point of Canal Street’s character.

“I think the monolithic aspect is really very troubling and I think it does break away and detract from a more granular nature of Canal Street,” Srinivasan concluded.

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