Residents Warily Eye Proposed Glass Building As Their Neighbor

Rendering of the proposed building looking southwest. The larger, northern building would nearly abut 17 White Street. Community Board 1’s Landmarks Committee said the buildings’ roofs “look like they were drawn by a separate architectural firm.” There would be stores on the ground floor. Rendering: DDG Partners

Oct. 28, 2013

Developers are gearing up to put a glass-faced residential building on two oddly shaped lots—now parking lots—in Tribeca. Its design, the neighbors complain, is an affront to their block.

The proposal, for a shiny eight-story building at 100 Franklin Street, with a highly modern interpretation of a man­sard roof, is due to go before the Land­marks Preservation Commission on Nov. 12 for the first of several city approvals that are required of the developer, DDG Partners.

About 20 people, most of whom live close to the site—a parking lot since 1949—came to Community Board 1’s monthly full board meeting on Oct. 22 to say that the building’s design does not fit the character of the neighborhood.

“Once we saw the plans, people were very, very upset,” said David Lin­de­n­baum, who lives next door to the property, at 17 White Street. “It’s all glass. It makes really not much reference to the true historical identity. It is ahistorical.” 

“The fabric of historic Tribeca is being taken over by these modern developments,” said David Schoonmaker, also of 17 White St.

Lynn Ells­worth, speaking for her preservation group Tribeca Trust, called the building banal and too big, and the use of certain design elements to be “kitsch and make a mockery of our historic district.”

“We’re not against a building on this site. It’s a tiny site,” she said. “Surely there’s another way to ap­proach it.”

The proposed building, actually two connected tri­­angular structures with a single glass front, would stand on the south­ernmost block of Sixth Avenue, be­tween White and Franklin streets, with an entrance on Frank­lin.

“The irregularity of the site presented an ex­treme architectural challenge space­wise,” DDG architect Peter Guthrie told CB1’s Landmarks Com­mittee earlier in the month. “You’re closing into the corners of these triangles—there’s very little space.”

The unusual facade would be four-layered—a sheet of outside glazing, with brick arches and structural material behind the glass and, behind that, the apartment windows that open within the building. The design also calls for vine-wrapped cables to hang from the building.

“The brick was an idea to connect to the context of many of these Tribeca warehouses,” Guthrie said. As for the vines, “We go to the place of industrial ruin. The weeds coming through. We’re kind of passionate about the softening of all the hard materials.”

The northern end would come to a point next to 17 White Street, a handsome 1868 apartment building with a mansard roof that inspired DDG to come up with mansard roofs of its own for the north and south penthouses.

The more prominent of the two penthouses, on the larger northern building, is grey and angular with a cantilevered second story that hangs over the apartment’s terrace.

“We unabashedly would like to make a modern building,” Guthrie said. “But at the same time we feel that that move is not a radical stretch from the dormer language from the late 1800s. This is the claim we’re making.”

The resolution out of that committee slammed the roof design as “a jagged, rambling mess” that is “hard to fathom.” But the committee also called most of the design “a handsome, clean and coherent structure” and advised the Land­marks Commission to approve the design if the roof were refashioned and the “bulbous bulkheads” on top were brought down. (Bruce Ehrmann, who wrote the resolution, likened the bulkheads to “giant mounting points from which a helicopter could carry the buildings away.”)

That resolution didn’t sit well with the group that came out to speak against the project, some whom had told the committee earlier in the month that they worried about the impact of construction on hurricane damaged 17 White Street. They condemned the entire design at the full board meeting, and called for a reconsideration of the plans.

“All we want to do is have a postponement so that we can understand what is being presented to us,” said Pru­dence Carlson of 17 White St. “From the first blush, it is completely non-contextual, in terms of character, materials and scale.”

The board voted to table the resolution, giving the residents more time to study the plans and meet with CB1’s Landmarks Committee on Nov. 7, in advance of the Landmarks Com­mission hearing. 


— Aline Reynolds contributed reporting.


New Development in Tribeca

As longstanding residents of Tribeca we are deeply concerned about the tenor and stance of the city toward new development. It appears to us that for some time now, new development has been given carte blanche and goes unscrutinized. The Landmarks Preservation Commission appears to be motivated more by real estate interests than by

its original mandate to scrupulously preserve and protect New York City’s architectural heritage. As a result of unbridled development, this rich and irreplaceable heritage is under threat.  “Fueled by lax zoning laws, cheap capital and the rise of a global elite with millions to spend on pieds-à-terre,” (See 10/28 NYT Op-Ed, “Shadows Over Central Park”.) Tribeca, much like the neighborhoods surrounding Central Park, is being severely compromised by unchecked real estate speculation.


        Much of Tribeca falls under Landmark designation. Residents of landmarked buildings must comply with stringent rules for any exterior alteration whatsoever, regardless of how miniscule these alterations may be.  Additionally, the residents of such landmarked buildings work inordinately hard to care for their historic dwellings. By contrast, the development of in-fill sites, which themselves may be landmarked, is virtually a free-for-all in terms of design. Although it may not be spoken, it is fully known that these developments are all about lining the pockets of investor groups who have immense influence with the city and have no regard for what they leave in their wake.


        The most urgent case in point is the lot at 100 Franklin Street. The proposed new structure is utterly out of context in terms of character, scale and materials in the Tribeca East Historic Landmarked District. Its presence will dilute the architectural fabric long ago created by the buildings surrounding that lot. This dilution seriously eats away at the integrity of an entire

sector of 19th Century treasures. It is an affront, in particular, to the classic Second Empire building directly adjacent to the lot’s north end. The 1868 building will effectively be erased from the East and Northeast, where it is presently most dramatically visible. There is a circlet of buildings, all of the same period, running up and down Franklin and White Streets that will be similarly damaged. The historic injury does not even begin to address the devastating effects of the new development on the trees, the light, the air circulation and the charm of the existing, unusually broad alley way that connects the north and south ends of these two small triangular parcels.  


        We are appealing to the community, CB1 and the Landmarks Preservation Commission to honestly and disinterestedly assume their appointed roles and obligations to protect the Historic District and reject this proposed design.



All of the residents of 17 White Street