Photo: Can Pac Swire/Flickr
He arrives over the lobby at 60 Wall Street, everyone’s favorite postmodern atrium. Its columns of papyrus rods, an interpretation of the Egyptian Revival aesthetic that had flourished a few years earlier in marble and granite and latticework the color of Bolivian snowflakeare a fantastic relic of the time when architects began to dream again, Well, how about trying to decorate it?, after 20 years of stripped down modernism. This private public space, or POPS, is exuberant, a little ridiculous and threatened with deadly renovation. Real estate trust Paramount Group, the new owner of the building, has declared its intention to snatch Kevin Roche’s 1989 and Apple Store treatment – turning it into a white bid. Ditto the chunky gray granite columns on the exterior at the base of the facade, which were intended to echo those at the top of the building but which should be covered in quarried beige limestone.
Normally, the Landmarks Preservation Commission would have no power over a landmarkless structure like the 60 Wall. But due to certain agreements made during the construction of the building, the LPC has some jurisdiction over exterior plans, and in July it called for revisions: it demanded that the exterior columns be more closely contextual with those they face at the 55 Wall, with which its design had to “harmonize”. A diagram presented last week indeed shows columns whose dimensions are closer to those on the other side of the street, although they now have little resonance with the building to which they are actually attached. This revision could be decided upon at Tuesday’s meeting. The atrium is not officially contemplated, but since it is a single project, a non-decision on the columns on the exterior will preserve the interior long enough to be assessed. A yes will probably trigger the jackhammers.
Docomomo, the modernist preservation group, deservedly went to the mat for this one, and on September 12, the LPC offered the group a glimmer of something akin to hope. “During its initial review, staff determined that the building and interior POPs warranted further study in the context of postmodern commercial architecture and interiors,” LPC wrote in a letter to the group’s executive director. , Liz Waytkus. This was followed by a cascade of caveats noting that such new buildings are hard to justify, especially in Manhattan. This is also a non-binding statement: Deserves further study does not mean “we give the order not to pull it out tomorrow”. It also doesn’t preclude preemptive demolition – a technique that has occasionally been used by developers faced with possible scouting, including the hasty destruction of the lobby of the McGraw-Hill Building on 42nd Street last year and the mansion. Jacob Dangler at Bed-Stuy in July.
What happens tomorrow, when exterior changes are on the agenda, will be one of two things: Either Landmarks won’t approve them, in which case the set will continue to be paused for further evaluation. depth, during which time the commission is likely to take a closer look at the lobby. Or he’ll give the green light to the changes outside, in which case everything moves forward and the lobby is probably toast. “The demolition could start tomorrow afternoon,” Waytkus told me, and indeed the entrances are already surrounded by scaffolding.
Sixty Wall is a little too young to be canonical despite Roche’s architectural significance, and perhaps that’s why it’s considered so consumable. Buildings in their fourth decade – especially postmodern ones, which have been looked down upon in some quarters since they were new – can now be assessed with some distance. Ten years ago, most people would probably have considered towers like this dated and tacky, absolutely not worth saving. Twenty years from now, when people who came of age in the 2010s dominate the taste conversation, it would almost surely be saved. Right now, we’re at the middle point: where aesthetes (at least some of them) You understand, and the money guys just think it’s old and dated and weird and maybe hard to rent. This period is, too often, the middle ground where tall buildings, too often, give way to something much less grand. Penn Station was 53 years old, dirty and poorly maintained, and both too big and too small when it was demolished. The Singer Tower was about 60 years old when we let it go. Neither was a perfect building, but neither likely would have collapsed had they held out a little longer.
The lobby at 60 Wall is also flawed, and it too is a bit abandoned at the moment, its fountains dry and retail spaces locked. This puts him in particular danger. Buildings that show a bit of weathering just look old to a lot of people. (When I passed yesterday, about a third of the bulbs were burnt out, a bit of probably deliberate neglect that made the booming spaces look dull and dark.) But “it retains all of its original fabric. Who tears granite and marble from a building? said Waytkus, a little incredulous. “To wear what? Concrete?” Everything is really done in luxury materials, I notice. “It’s on Wall Street,” she agrees, noting that it was in tune with its time and place.
A few postmodern interiors have been recognized for their significance. The Ambassador Grill, Roche’s super-flashy 1976 restaurant near the UN, was also due for a makeover a few years ago. In 2016, a final push from Docomomo and other bands — not to mention Curbed — made it New York’s youngest indoor landmark. In this case, however, the owners didn’t see the desire to mark the space coming. This time they are pushing hard to renovate. What are the odds like? Waytkus is cautiously optimistic, putting the odds of saving the lobby far better than even. There’s a lot of goodwill on the side of her rescue, she says, including from the community council, and perhaps some sympathy from the LPC itself. But, she admits, “to be conservative is to lose a lot.”