980%20Madison%20Ave.jpgThe Landmarks Preservation Commission yesterday stalled Aby Rosen and Norman Foster’s proposed glass tower above the 1949 Parke-Bernet building at 980 Madison Avenue. While the commission didn’t formally reject the plan, it did not approve the addition or support a zoning waiver, two requirements for the project to proceed. All but one commissioner said during the public meeting at the Surrogate’s Court building that they could not support the building because of its scale, massing, materials and location.

Kudos to the Village Voice for posting the first story online. Felix Gillette reported that Commissioner Joan Gerner called the design “an architectural masterpiece” that “belongs on a vacant site,” rather than atop an existing building in the Upper East Side Historic District. Another, Commissioner Thomas Pike, criticized Foster for inadequately harmonizing glass and limestone (“I’m an authority on marriages. And this marriage makes me nervous” is what Pike, a minister, said). Tom Wolfe wore a black-and-white checkered suit and lime green tie. Perhaps all this attention has motivated him to rethink his look?

The NY Observer was next, running a story culled from a phoner with “principal actors.” Nine of ten commissioners (the 11th was absent, per the NY Times) strongly opposed the plan, wrote Matthew Schuerman, who quote Aby Rosen’s spokesperson as saying the hearing “went quite well,” given that “[n]obody was closing the door and saying, ‘Absolutely not. You can’t build something on top of the Parke-Bernet building.’” Rosen’s coming back with a revised plan.

The NY Times’ write-up is the most thorough and detailed – it even describes Wolfe’s suit as being “navy-and-white houndstooth flannel.” It quotes chairman Robert Tierney’s recommendation to Rosen and Foster at the end of the public meeting: “We will ask you to rethink, restudy, in light of everything that’s been said, and revisit this at some point down the line.”

Rosen told the Times' Sewall Chan that he would study the size of the building and Foster told Chan that, “To be an architect, you have to be an optimist.” Foster had spent the early part of the meeting defending the design, especially the slim tower contrasted against the original, horizontal base of the gallery building and his adjustment of the building’s color from silver to bronze. He was unapologetic over the combination of glass and steel of the new tower and the stone of older buildings nearby, citing recent additions to MoMA and the Morgan Library.

The commissioner who supported the addition was Jan Hird Pokorny, an architect, who said that a vertical tower on or near a horizontal base “has been done in history many times” – and then handed out a German print depicting the Leaning Power of Pisa, begun in 1173, next to the Dome of Pisa, started 100 years earlier!

Wolfe told the Times that he was “surprised and relieved” that the commissioners “showed some backbone.”


Photograph of Norman Foster and Aby Rosen when they presented the design last October