NYU: It’s all a facade

Poe\'s house at NYU Law

Just one example.

Today NYU released yet another set of images from it’s NYU 2031 planning process, meant to foster community dialog about the physical manifestations of NYU”s next 25 years of growth. Having attended 3 of these meetings, each more heated than the last, I can tell you the bullshit was so intense you could smell it. Many of the ideas were either impossible-idealistic (Lets shut down a whole street [Washington Place]!) to the outlandish-absurd (We can take over Governors Island!), with an occasional purely stupid thrown down (How about we demolish half of Washington Square Village!). By the last meeting, residents were straight-up yelling at NYU reps, and the whole process seemed to be grinding to an unproductive halt. The day after that meeting, NYU sprung their Provincetown Playhouse plans on preservationists, returning town-gown relations to square one.

Which is not to say I always agree with community outcry: a mix of obstinate preservationist backlash and administrative arrogance by NYU has turned many of NYU’s recent projects into grotesque hybrids of old and new, buildings fronted by flimsy facades and cheap imitations of a real city. NYU’s building Here’s a quick tour:

NYU Law/Poe House (Pictured above):

Poe house memorial.

Thanks for the heads up, I think.

In the mid-00s or so, NYU decided to expand its law school using land where Edgar Allen Poe briefly lived during the 1800’s. Predictably, folks were upset, and the result was this awkward building. Essentially, one section of the building’s exterior on 3rd street was build to look sort of like the house that stood there previously. It really serves no-one’s interests – the look is too surface level to be taken seriously as a historical. Without an overzealous community backlash to protect an ultimately minor historical landmark (Poe lived there only briefly, and moved frequently during his life, trying to avoid creditors and more), there might have been room to create a building that made a meaningful contribution to street life – a task in which the current building fails miserably.

St. Ann’s/12th Street Dorm:

Silence of the Dorm

The St. Ann’s Church/12th Street dorm fiasco terrifies me the most of any of these projects.  The church was purchased by a third party developer who approached NYU with an agreement to build a dorm if NYU entered into a long term lease agreement.  NYU went along with the proposal, and somehow decided that leaving the partially demolished steeple of the church in-tact in front of the building would serve as an ample concession to community activists who opposed the dorm’s size and other design features.  So what we have left on 12th st is a puke-colored box fronted by a veneer of church – a face to the street that honestly terrifies.  It reminds me of Silence of the Lambs – NYU wearing the skin of past development.

Provincetown Playhouse

Provincetown Playhouse

I don’t get it.

Here is the latest and strangest.  The Provincetown Playhouse has been owned by NYU for decades now, but right after a 2031 meeting in April, NYU turned around and decided it wanted to demolish the thing for new law school space.  I don’t want it to seem like I’m in support of anyone going to law school, but NYU managed to make some pretty serious concessions, to the point of making this project almost reasonable.  Still, a mixture of boneheaded PR moves and rabid opposition from Greenwich Village Historical Preservation Society means that the new building will once again be an architectural Frankenstein.  First, the timing was downright absurd, in the middle of a planning process meant to play nice with the GVHPS, and after previous NYU admins had promised to leave the building as-is.  (Perhaps another case of protecting a fairly lame landmark – the building has been remodeled several times since its heyday as a theater, and the new plans would be fairly contextual with nearby buildings)  Somehow the compromise NYU arrived at involves preserving the narrow part of the building along the south side that houses the actual playhouse, demolishing the rest, and cantilevering a whole new building over the old playhouse.  To what end, I don’t know.

Each of these projects is the result of the unbalanced opposition of a withdrawn and unaccountable NYU administration facing off against a preservationist group opposed to just about anything that changes the look and feel of a neighborhood, simply because it has been that way before. It’s just as feasible for rabid anti-building advocates to ‘go to Brooklyn’ as it is for NYU to make the move to other boroughs.

The Only group consistently left out of discussions of NYU’s growth are students.  The 2031 draft agreement signed by Borough President Stringer mentions students once, and never in a decision making role (it refers to students and others being able to use the same public space).  Students are becoming some of the primary residents and users of Lower Manhattan, and have been systemically excluded from planning decisions.  Even if long term residents have been there longer, in an area that includes 4 major four year universities (NYU, New School, Pace and Adelphi) plus other smaller schools, the interests of students should be seriously considered in planning decisions.  I don’t trust either NYU or GVHPS to consider student interests in good faith.

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One response to “NYU: It’s all a facade

  1. I love that “bullshit” is one of your tags.

    Sometimes I’m really ashamed to admit that I pay NYU receive a diploma that says “New York University”

    I live near that dorm (St Anns/12th Street) and it’s really a bizarre site. I’ve never seen the church prior to the construction of the dorm, but I don’t understand the logic behind the decision to keep the steeple in front of an extremely ugly building.

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