May 2011
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Archive for May, 2011

Zoning. After 50 Years, Is It Time for a Change?

The "Blue Condominium" designed by Bernard Tschumi on the Lower East

Norman Marcus, who helped draft many of today’s intricate zoning regulations,  was the general counsel to the New York City Planning Commission from 1963 to 1985. He was also instrumental in the preservation of Grand Central Terminal and was a long standing member of the MAS law committee. In 1991 at a conference on the 30th Anniversary of the 1961 Zoning Resolution he wrote:

“The Zoning Resolution and maps we use today are a collage of ad-hoc, jerry-built, and, sometimes thoughtful inspirations grafted onto a long disowned armature.  The Zoning Resolution is an integrated ordinance. Tinker with one part and you set another part and its assumptions out of whack. That has been what the city has been doing for thirty years.”

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MAS Demonstration Project Receives Support from the National Endowment for the Arts (NEA)

Thumbnail - Henry Street Settlement - Photo by Hazel Balaban

The Municipal Art Society is pleased to announce that Rocco Landesman, Chairman of the National Endowment for the Arts,  has recommended that MAS receive $20,000 for a grant to support our Henry Street Settlement Energy Retrofit project. The demonstration project will show that the city’s most treasured historic buildings can improve their energy efficiency without significant aesthetic changes or large capital outlays.

The Henry Street Settlement headquarters, located on the Lower East Side, are in three c. 1830 Federal-style row houses. Both New York City Landmarks and National Historic Landmarks, the buildings are ideal for the project because of their age, relative lack of alterations and, in terms of size and configuration, their ubiquity in New York City. To ensure that these results are replicable, MAS and the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commissionwill write a guide to improving the efficiency of historic buildings. Both projects are supported by a challenge grant from the J.M. Kaplan Fund.

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NYU Expansion Update: MAS Testifies on the Environmental Review

nyu new york university campus expansion 2031 plan

MAS testified yesterday, May 24,  at the NYC Department of City Planning hearing on the projected 2.5 million sq. ft. of development NYU is proposing to add to their Greenwich Village campus. The purpose of the meeting was to solicit public comments on areas that should be studied in NYU’s Environmental Impact Statement.  MAS’s comments focused on the need to ensure full disclosure of information to help inform decision makers and the public about any potential project impacts.

NYU’s plan for Greenwich Village is part of NYU: 2031, a 6 million sq. ft. city-wide expansion plan designed to accommodate existing academic and housing needs and allow for additional growth.

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Feds Join the Call to Save Admiral’s Row in Brooklyn Navy Yard


Efforts to save the endangered buildings at the Admirals Row site in Brooklyn received a significant boost today, when several key federal elected officials called for the preservation of the buildings.

Over the last few years, unprecedented consensus has developed among a wide range of preservation organizations, civic groups and the Brooklyn Navy Yard  about the future of Admiral’s Row. All have called on the National Guard Bureau, the site’s owner, to help facilitate the preservation of two of the site’s most historically significant buildings, the Timber Shed and Quarters B.

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Skyline Panelists Debate Preservation vs. Evolution

new york manhattan skyline

On Wednesday, May 11, several top American and Canadian thinkers on architecture and historic preservation participated in a panel co-sponsored by MAS and the New York Landmarks Conservancy focused on the challenge of preserving the New York City  skyline.

Moderator Paul Goldberger of The New Yorker, suggested that since current user preferences  result in bulky buildings, the issue of an iconic skyline is one of design and not necessarily height.

Historian Kenneth Jackson identified the difficulty of determining what is worth preserving in a city like New York. He pointed out that if preserving the iconic were truly a priority, then Yankee Stadium would still be standing. Instead, buildings like those that line Central Park West are frozen in time, from a moment in history that may or may not reveal itself to be significant. He argued that New York risks the “musuemification” of the city as has happened in places like Savannah, Georgia and Paris. He also made a supply and demand economic argument for building more and building higher, rather than artificially restricting supply as historic designations tend to do.

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