NYU Won't Build "Fourth" I.M. Pei Tower After All

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NYU-hating village preservationists will probably be celebrating today. The real-estate-hungry university has announced it will withdraw its application to build a planned 400-foot-tall tower in the Silver Towers complex at Bleecker and West Houston streets that was planned to include a dorm and hotel.

In a statement, NYU said it would scrap plans to build a new tower after the original towers' designer -- famed Chinese architect I.M. Pei -- wrote a letter opposing the university's plan. Instead, the school will seek to build on property it already owns -- a space on the southeast corner of Bleecker Street and LaGuardia Place that currently houses a Morton Williams supermarket. (The I.M. Pei towers are on the same block as the Morton Williams site, but were landmarked in 2008; special permission was needed from the city to build on the land further.)

"From the beginning, we sought a design for the Silver Towers block that was most respectful of Mr. Pei's vision. Some people disagreed with our proposed approach; others agreed. We believed that among those who agreed was Mr. Pei himself, who expressed no opposition to the concept of a tower on the landmarked site when we spoke with him directly in 2008," said Lynne Brown, NYU's senior vice president for university and public relations.

"Mr. Pei has now had a change of heart. The clarity Mr. Pei has now provided -- that the Morton Williams site is 'preferable' -- is helpful to us in understanding how to proceed with our ULURP proposal."

In the letter, representatives for Pei called the NYU plan "profoundly destructive of the landmarked entity," and said it "seriously compromises" the Picasso sculpture found within the complex. "The fourth tower deprives University Village of its kinetic sense of energy, renders it static and self-centered, isolates it from the surrounding urban context, and replaces the lively compositional gesture of the three-tower group with an insistent, self-referential pinwheel system," the letter said.

It also called NYU's backup plan (a 17-story building on the Morton Williams site) "unattractive," but "nonetheless preferable to the proposed fourth tower." "Ideally, the corner building would be designed so as to make it more responsive to its neighbors and to the landmarked entity."

Andrew Berman, executive director for the Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation, had a mixed response to NYU's announcement.

"Of course, we're really happy that in the face of the overwhelming opposition the proposal has faced that NYU has dropped it," Berman said. "On the other hand, of course, they're stubbornly insisting on moving ahead on the rest of their plan, including building on the neighboring supermarket site which we are still opposed to."

The Greenwich Village Society for Historical Preservation has often clashed with the university's aggressive expansion plans in the past, and says it would prefer the school look elsewhere for its development.

"We really think the university should be looking for developing in the Financial District where this kind of development would be welcomed, contextual, and where community leaders have said that they want it, but the university is stubbornly refusing to consider that option and we're going to continue to fight this plan."

That "plan," dubbed NYU 2031, has been a controversial expansion plan that seeks to increase the school's real estate footprint by 6 million square feet within the next 21 years.

IM Pei Letter to NYU

[shernandez@villagevoice.com]


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