VIEW FROM 16TH STREET. Image courtesy of BKSK Architects.
After reading a two-part series I wrote on the redesign of the former Tammany Hall overlooking Union Square (WestView News, April and May 2015), Harry Kendall, a principal architect for BKSK Architects, showed me designs for a partially rebuilt facade of an historic R. H. Robertson building located in the Ladies’ Mile Historic District on East 16th Street, a half block west of Union Square. The firm was asked to insert a nine-story hotel in the center of this through-block lot which would incorporate the 19th century Romanesque facade with a horizontal stone parapet wall at the top. Upon researching, Kendall discovered Robertson’s original design for the missing pedimented doorways at the ground floor, and a rather magnificent peaked gable roof just above the current parapet. BKSK have adopted both these designs in their proposal. The proposed entrances and windows on the ground floor will be replicated in sandstone to be mined in Mississauga, Ontario, Canada.
The top floor will be another matter: a daring reach from heavy stone into light weight theatrics where only the weight of snow needs to be sustained. Here the gable will be constructed of a Muntz metal perforated bronze screen, made in Germany, to slip over a glass wall enclosing the guest rooms behind. Under daylight conditions the exterior will have the appearance of sandstone. At night it will have the texture of embroidered lace. One is reminded of Arthur Miller’s production of Death of a Salesman on Broadway, where Willie was seen in his home behind a screen of painted architecture. There is also the touch of whimsy that one finds in the Woolworth Building by Cass Gilbert or the stylized gargoyles of the Chrysler Building.
There is little doubt that this new roof and gable wall are not conventional in an architectural sense. They are theatrical, but strong and durable nevertheless. Much of architecture is about theater, about the excitement of exterior street space as well as the comfort of enclosed space. While stepping down the hotel’s top floor to the existing balustrade or a brazenly modern gable are doable alternatives, this solution is thoroughly engaging. It will be presented to the Landmarks Preservation Commission on January 14th. It is certainly worthy of their consideration and will undoubtedly lead to some basic conversations about what architecture consists of. I look forward to their deliberations and conclusion.
— Barry Benepe