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Silver Towers Landmarked After Five Year Campaign! - 11/18/08

Today the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) voted to designate the I.M. Pei-designed Silver Towers complex, including its landscaping and Picasso sculpture, “Portrait of Sylvette,” a New York City landmark. The designation culminates a five-year campaign by the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation (GVSHP) for landmark designation and to preserve the complex.

GVSHP first proposed the modernist complex for landmark designation in 2003, and worked closely with residents of the complex, elected officials, and preservation organizations on advancing the landmarking proposal. NYU owns the land under the complex and two of the three towers (the third is a moderate-income housing complex for neighborhood residents NYU was required to build), and initially strongly opposed landmark designation. When the LPC decided to hold a hearing on the proposed designation, the university changed its position, saying it supported landmark designation but wished to build a 40-story tower on the soon-to-be-landmarked open space north of the Picasso sculpture, which would have blocked the public view of the art work. GVSHP and other supporters of landmark designation adamantly opposed the NYU 40-story tower plan, saying it violated the entire notion of landmarking the complex, and urged the LPC to protect the open space as part of its designation. The LPC’s designation report, approved at today’s meeting, acknowledges the importance of the open space as integral to the design, thus making their required approval of construction of a tower on this site by the LPC in the future seem highly unlikely.

Today’s vote to landmark Silver Towers complex is groundbreaking; Silver Towers is the first post-war urban renewal superblock development in New York City to be landmarked. While such urban renewal projects rarely receive high marks for design, Silver Towers is considered a watershed moment for one of the late 20th century’s most respected and influential architects. The design won awards from the American Institute of Architects and the City Club, was dubbed “one of ten buildings that climax an era” by Fortune Magazine, and was cited as a basis for which Pei received the 1983 Pritzker Prize — the most prestigious award for architects — for his body of work up to that time. Landmarking Silver Towers not only helps preserve an eminently livable place and honors a great work of architecture, but it also acknowledges the importance of our city’s past efforts to create affordable housing and public art. See coverage of today’s vote in Crains NY, the NY Times, NY Post, New York Observer, New York Magazine, The Real Deal, City Realty, Washington Square News, Preservation Magazine, AIA e-Oculus, and NY1.

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