Transformations

Last week Constance Rosenblum wrote about appropriateness in terms of row house renovations in her New York Times article, “The Brownstone Revisionists.” For me, it is clear from some of the images used in the article that there is a beautiful quality about the rhythm of windows on a historic block and the proportionate relationship of their length as your eye moves up along the facades. Rafael Viñoly believes that “imitating an architectural vocabulary simply because it’s there isn’t an appropriate response nowadays.” While I agree that imitation is not always the best approach to renovations, a complete disregard of the historic fabric is equally flawed. In my Preservation through Public Policy class, we recently learned about the conservation district efforts in Queen Village, where there is room for modern architecture so long as its design is considerate of its historic surroundings. In this way, I agree with Roy Sloan’s opinion as it appears in the article: “’Don’t misunderstand me,’ he said. ‘I like Modernist architecture. Can Modernism be integrated into traditional design? Yes, if it’s timeless. But if your intent is to call attention to your house, if you want to treat your house as an experiment, that’s a different story.’ He also worries that if historic districts are transformed too greatly, much will be lost. He wonders if a generation of children will grow up thinking that glass walls and metal trim were part and parcel of the traditional Victorian row house. ‘I’m in favor of dynamic change in the city,’ Mr. Sloane said. ‘Not everything should be landmarked. But the tiny areas that remain should be preserved. We don’t need Mies van der Rohe everywhere.'”

Left, a rendering shows East 64th Street with No. 162 razed and replaced by a fritted glass structure with a bowed facade by Rafael Viñoly. Right, No. 162 as it looks today.

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