Fremantle Council heritage staff and Heritage Council staff have spectacularly failed to ensure good quality outcomes for the West End in recent building works.
The building pictured here on the corner of High and Adelaide Streets has been well restored above the awning, but no efforts were made to have the shopfront harmonise with the upper storey heritage. The incongruity is alarming and totally unsatisfactory.
The value of good shopfronts is recognised around the world. They are fundamental to the success of quality shopping precincts, especially in heritage areas. Fremantle staff are doing nothing to improve or restore shopfronts.
Ironically, the mayor and council removed this shop and this area from the West End Conservation Area. The loss of half of the listed area of the West End Consservation Area was done to make things easier for developers and that has unfortunately passed unnoticed by most people.
Yet again, Fremantle heritage staff and heritage staff at the State Heritage Office have failed to protect Fremantle’s heritage.
Countless examples exist from the last few years of less than ideal outcomes for the valuable heritage properties of Fremantle. The damaging works carried out at 5 Mouat Street are just the latest example.
Last Thursday the Fremantle Council planning department was phoned about an urgent matter, asking for someone to call back.
No one did.
The matter concerns the installation of air conditioning and other services that day into what is arguably the most photographed building in Fremantle, the level one heritage listed former Strelitz office and warehouse at 5 Mouat Street. The installation was being done in such an unsympathetic manner that I wanted someone to urgently check what was going on.
On Friday I rang the State Heritage Office and they said approval for works at the property had been granted and suggested I speak to someone at Fremantle Council as the responsible authority for the implementation of the works. I rang and spoke to someone at Fremantle Council and they suggested I speak with the State Heritage Office.
Later they suggested I write to Fremantle Council instead of talk.
The attached photographs show the unsightly works which have now been carried out.
The cheap nasty white plastic piping is totally unsuited for a level one heritage building no matter where it is used on the building and in this case the piping is very visible for passers by and for anyone wanting to photograph this important building. The works carried out have destroyed the important visual quality of both sides of the building.
I had the general manager and director of a major air conditioning company view the works on Monday and he agreed that what has been done is unsatisfactory. He said that white piping should not be used on commercial projects because it is not fire rated, and that the excessive use of piping was largely due to cost saving issues to avoid installation of pumps.
These damaging works come on top of earlier damaging works carried out on the building when heavy grey painted bandings were allowed, which turned the building from a soaring vertical Germanic masterpiece to a horizontal wedding cake.
Fremantle Society member and former Chair of the Heritage Council and former Fremantle Council Heritage Architect Ian Molyneux says: “this is intrusive and highly damaging to the degree of cultural heritage significance (CHS) (aesthetic value class) of this Place.”
Action must be taken by Fremantle Council to remedy the damage caused.
Local MLA Simone McGurk is taking the matter up with the Heritage Minister.
(The following submission on the Hougoumont Hotel extensions at 15 Bannister Street, Fremantle, was made today to all councillors)
The Fremantle Society is concerned at the repeated damage being done to the important West End by mediocre and lax appovals issued by Fremantle Council.
Tonight the Planning Committee is dealing with another controversial application, stage 2 of the Hougoument Hotel in Bannister Street.
The Fremantle Society agrees with the officers’ recommendation to REFUSE the application.
West End Conservation Policy DGF 14 Part 4.2.2 (a) states: “The appropriate height is one which respects the scale and reinforces the integrity of the existing streetscape. The Council’s officers and advisers believe that in principle this to be a maximimum height of three storeys, on the street frontage.”
Further in the report it is stated: “It is also considered that reducing the height of the building to three storeys at the street boundary would generally allow the proposal comply (sic) with the principles of the Burra Charter and the objectives of the West End Conservation Policy.”
That is supported by the Fremantle Society.
The Fremantle Society is concerned to hear that an argument for extra height is being put because the large Fowler building is ‘adjacent’. The Fowler building is in fact down the end of the street and at right angles to this property and there is no conceivable way that a right minded person could conclude the proposed hotel is ‘adjacent’ to the Fowler building.
The developer is also claiming concessions because the proposal is claimed by the developer to have ‘design excellence’. How a large group of containers stacked one on top of the other can be construed as ‘excellence’ is open to contention and debatable given the large mass proposed.
The Fremantle Society agrees with the applicant (p176 Planning Agenda letter from applicant April 2016): “It is also important to note that traditional buildings were not built with upper floor setbacks, rather they were built to confidently address the street. The provision of an upper floor setback is a contemporary design guideline solution whch departs from traditional building form and is in effect a crude default solution to moderate the impact of perceived building bulk in the absence of design excellence.”
This is a rarely understood but important aspect of the built form of the West End and on this basis the Fremantle Society does not support a fourth storey on the street nor a set back roof terrace with all the built features shown in the plans.
Finally, we ask councillors to ascertain: Why are referrals to the State Heritage Office repeatedly addressed with informal and overly brief comments instead of detailed assessments from the planning committee of the State Heritage Council (see p166 of agenda: letter from State Heritage Office 24 November 2015: “The comments contained in this letter are not made under section 11 of Heritage of Western Australia Act 1990 but are provided informally.” )
According to our advice, such a process contravenes the Act and opens your decision to legal appeal, which we will be considering if approval is given for this project with non conforming additions.
The vast and highly significant Police Precinct of over 7000 square metres at 45 Henderson Street, Fremantle, has been sold.
The asking price of $5.95 million plus GST gives freehold possession of seven buildings of varying age and importance, but includes the former heritage courthouse and heritage barracks, in a prime location near the World Heritage listed Fremantle Prison, King’s Square, and Fremantle Markets.
The sale at such a reasonable price was a missed opportunity, one that Fremantle Council should have grabbed with both arms.
Instead Fremantle Council are stuck in a disastrous business plan with the developer Sirona.
The Fremantle Society wrote to all members last week outlining serious concerns with the King’s Square Business Plan which basically sells $50 million of ratepayer assets to developer Sirona for $29 million. Then, council intends building a $50 million administration centre for the mayor, councillors, and officers in King’s Square, thus destroying King’s Square and turning it into a triangle. After all that, the ratepayers will be left with massive debt for decades.
The Fremantle Society is demanding accountability for such a flawed business plan. The plan was supposed to be the catalyst for revitalisation, but in effect, it has wasted millions of dollars and years of time. The mayor and councillors are directly responsible for the seriously flawed plan.
Under no circumstances should the business plan be extended after the May 10 end of agreement with Sirona.
A new vision is needed for the town centre.
The Fremantle Society is working with prominent architects and planners to present a better vision for King’s Square and the surrounding area, and that will be published in the next couple of weeks.
The vision sees King’s Square becoming a true civic square, better design and use outcomes for council owned Queensgate, and for example, better options for the Spicer site (the car park opposite the Henderson Street warders’ cottages that the council intends selling to Sirona) to give enhanced linkages between the Cappuccino Strip, Markets, Prison, Police Precinct, and King’s Square.
Fremantle deserves a town centre designed for the public good, not for developers’ greed.
a) Fremantle Socety President John Dowson on Fremantle today.
b) Classicism in the City- Palladio Award in New York.
c) Review of Don Zivkovic’s Award Winning Classic Building by Architecture Professor Steven Semes from Period Homes Magazine September 2006
a) Fremantle Council altered a carefully constructed town planning scheme to allow developers extra height in the middle of Fremantle. Six years later there is not one decent new building to show for their largesse.
But, disturbingly, plans are currently with council for a 38 metre high building on the car park at the Coles Supermarket site opposite the railway station. Yes, 38 metres, more than 10 metres higher than the detested 10 storey Johnston Court block of flats. The new proposal has the potential to destroy the scale and character of the town.
Driving into Perth down the new traffic sewer that was Great Eastern Highway, one sees many examples of the new Perth emerging – large blocks of flats that no West Australian would be seen dead in. One such block, similar in height if not width to the Fremantle proposal by Gerard O’Brien of Silverleaf, is pictured here through a taxi window.
Meanwhile, working away in New York City, former Fremantle lad Don Zivkovic specialises in high quality classical new work, and his award winning apartment building is detailed below. Even with a substantial six metre set back from the front allowing extra height, the substantial building he constructed in the New York Upper East Side Historic District a few metres from Central Park, only has a total height of 22.8 metres. That, in the centre of New York City. Poor little Fremantle will get something 15 metres higher than that in a streetscape of largely one, two, and three storeys.
While no one wants mock heritage new buildings or façadism, Don Zivkovic and his associates demonstrate that good classical architecture is never out of date – in fact the gold boom architecture of Fremantle 120 years ago was itself a blend of classical styles. Amongst the mediocrity of Fremantle’s new buildings constructed of tilt up concrete panels, aluminium and glass panels, Fremantle would benefit from some classical architecture, that which uses traditional materials of brick, limestone, and timber. And, of course a good architect.
Such an architect Don Zivkovic will address the Fremantle Society later this year.
b) 3 E. 95th St.
2003-06, Zivkovic Associates with John Simpson & Partners
New York’s own Zivkovic firm, with some small input from Britain’s esteemed classicist Simpson (of Queen’s Gallery fame), created this splendid limestone town house. Note the thick walls, the deep window reveals — this is the real thing, not some plasterboard knockoff. Also note how reverently, yet without relinquishing its own singularity, it plays off of Horace Trumbauer’s majestic Marion Carhart house next door.
[Architect’s note: the Carhart Mansion apartment-house partners an historic landmark together with a new classical building, each in unique but compatible association, and each respectful of the streetscape of which they are an essential part. A century of building separates the original structure, by Horace Trumbauer, from its newer neighbor whose updated neo-classicism is yet very much of its time, in both stylistic and technical terms. The latter is as much defined by current market forces, municipal planning parameters and environmental performance, as it is by its strong architectural context. And together, the pairing responds, in a substantive way, to community concerns for a responsible 21st-century urbanism that both respects and reinforces the prevailing sense of place. DZ ]
With acknowledgment to the Palladio Award website:
Classicism in the City- the Zivkovic winning entry in the Palladio Awards 2007
One grand early-20th-century building after another sits in the Upper East Side Historic Landmark District in New York City. A few were once single-family mansions, which now serve as schools, religious centers, apartments and condominiums. The Amory S. Carhart Mansion, designed by renowned master architect Horace Trumbauer and constructed from 1913 to 1916, is one such mansion that was adapted for use as a school and, more recently, was renovated into condominiums.
5 East 95th Street, the plot adjacent to the Carhart Mansion, passed hands a few times – from Ernesto Fabbri to Goodhue Livingston to the Lycée Français de New York – before it was purchased by a Hong Kong-based developer in 2001. While the first two owners never built homes there, in 1957, the Lycée Français constructed a three-story white-brick annex to the Carhart Mansion, which it had purchased in 1937.
The developer purchased both of the private school’s properties on East 95th Street in 2001, intending to reintroduce luxury living to the block. The company demolished the unsympathetic 1950s structure in order to build an addition to the Carhart Mansion that complemented its style and materials.
Two firms that have played key roles in reviving traditional architecture on both sides of the Atlantic were involved on the project: Zivkovic Associates Architects, PC, of New York, NY, and London, England-based John Simpson & Partners. “In 2001, Principal Brian Connolly did a feasibility study, which was revisited in 2002, that established the basic design concept for the building, including its Classical character, overall massing and interior planning,” says Don Zivkovic, AIA, principal at Zivkovic Associates Architects. “Then later, in collaboration with Simpson, the design was developed. We also restored the Carhart Mansion, which involved cleaning the exterior masonry of pollution, re-pointing the brick and masonry, installing a new roof and reconfiguring some of the interior to make it contiguous with the new building.”
The Zivkovic & Associates project team included project architects John Spencer and Pargav Vardanian, as well as Frank Benavides, Laura Cassar and Viktor Kolisnichenko. John Simpson & Partners was brought on board in 2003 for the firm’s expertise in Classical design. “The owner wanted to ensure that the addition was first-rate,” says Principal John Simpson, RIBA, CVO, “and for 25 years we have designed almost exclusively buildings that are Classical.” It was the firm’s first foray into building in the U.S.
In 1993, a large portion of the Upper East Side was designated as the Carnegie Hill Historic District; five years later the French Neoclassical-style Carhart Mansion became a city Landmark. As such, the addition to the mansion needed to undergo review by the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). The commission was interested in seeing an addition that was distinguishable from the Trumbauer design, something with which the architects were happy to oblige, though on their own terms. “The original concept was to create two interconnected buildings,” says Simpson. “The Carhart Mansion and the new construction were to complement each other without the new building just mimicking the old.”
“On a block of Landmark properties,” adds Zivkovic, “we were careful to respect those buildings and especially relate the addition to the Carhart Mansion, but the best additions acknowledge their counterpart while having their own forms and identity.”
One concern that the commission raised was that the addition would be an inferior copy or synthetic version of the original building. To address this, the architects specified self-supporting, load-bearing-masonry construction in Indiana limestone for the two façades that can be viewed from the street, a construction technique that had not been widely employed in New York City since the 1930s. Significantly, Simpson builds only in load-bearing-masonry construction. A specialist in load-bearing-masonry construction, New York, NY-based structural engineer Donald Friedman was consulted. “Donald recommended a structural concrete frame behind the 2-ft.-thick masonry,” says Zivkovic, “which eliminates the need for expansion joints. This means that the unsightly caulking of 2-in.-wide expansion joints is also unnecessary. Instead, a slip-joint was made, which allowed for deeper reveals, like those of the Carhart Mansion.” The scheme was approved in 2003. (For more on the LPC’s decision, see “The Art of Conversation,” Period Homes, September 2006, page 18.)
Along with picking up on the materials and building techniques that Trumbauer used in the construction of the Carhart Mansion, the addition also responds to the original building’s proportions. “The design of the façade of the new building picks up guiding lines from the Carhart,” says Simpson.
“The floor levels, the cornice line and the scale of the windows correspond with those of the Carhart,” says Zivkovic. “But while the Carhart reads vertically, we designed the addition to read more horizontally relative to the Trumbauer building.” While the Carhart has a wider frontage with a giant order, the addition achieves its architectural power by the way its windows step in toward the center as they go up the building. This gives the building its monumentality and makes up for its narrower frontage compared to its neighbor. It also gives it the power to assert itself as a separate building along the street.
The rear façade is constructed of pale yellow brick that matches that of the Carhart Mansion. “It has a solid and robust feel in keeping with the rest of the building,” says Simpson. There is considerable ornamental cast ironwork at this façade, including balconies and a staircase with anthemion motifs and 6-ft.-tall brackets that support the balcony, which was fabricated by Yorkshire, England-based Chris Topp & Co.
Height restrictions determined by New York City’s zoning laws dictated a creative solution to fitting the maximum square footage allowable. “The way the mass came together was partially determined by zoning codes,” says Zivkovic. “We ended up with volumes determined by the city, but worked with those to make the building cohesive and aesthetically pleasing.” The main façades are 60 ft. tall, but 20-ft. setbacks allowed the architects to build to 75 ft., terracing the building to break up the scale and to complement the scale of the Trumbauer building. Simpson’s signature broken pediment with an arch, which he also used to great effect on the Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace, proclaims itself at the third-floor level looking east along East 95th Street, taking advantage of an adjacent courtyard. There is a similar broken pediment set back from the main façade on the roof, while another pediment tops the elevator shaft. Set at 90-degree angles to one another, the pediments form a “mini ‘Palatine Hill’ on the roof that reveals itself as one approaches the building from the east,” says Simpson. “This three-dimensional quality makes the townhouse more of an active player along East 95th Street, quietly proclaiming further individuality to the new building without it appearing to be in competition with its neighbors. It also alludes to the other New York City tradition usually associated with the taller buildings, which always finish with a flourish at the top.”
Though the setbacks aren’t easily spotted from the street, a courtyard to the immediate east of the addition better reveals them. Owned by the adjacent House of the Redeemer and designed by Grosvenor Atterbury in 1914, the courtyard was another Landmark neighbor that needed to be addressed by the design. “With the addition, we tried to improve on the courtyard,” says Zivkovic. “It allowed us a third façade, which we were delighted about and took advantage of.”
The architects also took advantage of the existing interior spaces in their design. The Carhart Mansion’s grand foyer with its curved staircase, a library on the third floor and a bedroom on the ground floor were restored and used as benchmarks for the interiors of the new building. Four expansive apartments are laid out across the two buildings, all of which overlap the new and the historic structures. They range from one to three stories and from 5,290 to 14,550 sq.ft. with 10 to 17 rooms and three to five bedrooms each. Ceilings heights of 9 to 18 ft. were kept consistent with those of the Carhart Mansion and provide a dramatic sequence of spaces, says Zivkovic.
The lavish interiors feature high-end traditionally styled components: Doric cornice moldings with dentils, solid-wood doors with Beaux Arts-style hardware, tiled bathrooms and honed French limestone, French terra cotta or antique wood flooring. Each apartment has wood-burning fireplaces and luxury kitchens with solid-wood cabinets, custom stone countertops and sinks from Danbury, CT-based Waterworks, Inc.
Private exterior spaces were as significant as the interiors; each apartment has a private terrace, garden or balcony. The penthouse enjoys the largest outdoor space, with 5,290 sq.ft. of roof terraces on multiple levels. The Classical design was extended to the terraces, which feature pergolas, trellises, a solarium and a Classical temple façade in limestone. “The temple front design is based on the Temple of Isis in Pompeii,” says Simpson, “with four Doric columns and a carved honeysuckle in the arch breaking the pediment. We incorporated the same floral motif on the exterior ironwork.”
Construction of the Carhart Mansion’s neighbor was completed in the winter of 2005. “The most challenging aspect of the design process was that it was on the fast track,” says Zivkovic, “and construction forged ahead as we were continuing to design. It’s difficult to get something cohesive to come out of that, but I’m very pleased with the result.” For Simpson, the real feat was utilizing load-bearing-masonry construction in New York City. “Everybody said that it couldn’t be done,” he says, “but happily everybody did their best to make it work.” 5 East 95th Street is the first Classical building with load-bearing masonry to be built in New York City since the 1970s. – Hadiya Strasberg
Finally, another long article but a very well written one by a professor of architecture and author of the book Future of the Past, reviewed as “The decade’s most important book on urban architecture.”
The Art of Conversation
Project: New addition to the Carhart Mansion, New York, NY
Architects: Zivkovic Associates Architects, New York, NY; with John Simpson & Partners Ltd., Bloomsbury, London, U.K.
Construction Manager: F.J. Sciame Construction Co., Inc., New York, NY
Reviewed by Steven W. Semes
The Amory S. Carhart Mansion, at 3 East 95th Street in New York City, designed between 1913 and 1916 by the superb Classical architect Horace Trumbauer (1868-1938), is one of the gems of Manhattan’s Carnegie Hill neighborhood. Rising just steps from Fifth Avenue and Central Park, it is also an individually designated city landmark. Based on the model of an 18th-century Parisian townhouse, its scale, proportions and robust detailing give it a strong American accent. From its commanding position at the western end of the block, the Carhart Mansion leads an elegant parade of townhouses that, despite their variety of style, massing and material, compose an exceptionally congruent urban streetscape. To the east is the intriguing Fabbri Mansion (now the House of the Redeemer, a religious retreat center affiliated with the Episcopal Church), designed by Egisto Fabbri and Grosvenor Atterbury between 1914 and 1916, with its Neo-Italian Renaissance detailing and unusual entry courtyard. The street is almost a textbook example of a lively urban block, but as polished and confident as its buildings are, the elegant camaraderie of the entire ensemble might easily be ruined by a single boorish gate-crasher. That was the case when an unattractive 1950s building rose at Number 5, the lot adjacent to the Carhart Mansion. Happily, its just-completed replacement has joined the ensemble, not only re-establishing proper etiquette, but also raising the tone of the whole party.
After World War II, the Carhart Mansion, like many other grand houses, was adapted for use as a private school, the Lycée Français de New York. The school expanded into the low addition at Number 5 next door and occupied other historic townhouses in the neighborhood as well. After many years accommodating les petits écoliers, in early 2001 the school offered the building for sale, along with five other properties in the neighborhood, and planned to consolidate its facilities into a new building.
Architect Brian Connolly, principal at Zivkovic Associates Architects of New York, NY, prepared the initial feasibility studies for a number of the sites, testing their development potential to assist with the sale. Connolly developed plans for three or four luxury apartments in the Carhart Mansion and a new annex on the site of 5 East 95th Street, sympathetic in scale and materials, deferential in character and plainly speaking the same Classical language as the Trumbauer building.
By late 2001, the school had sold the two 95th Street lots to a developer, who hired Beyer Blinder Belle Architects & Planners LLP to direct the restoration and adaptation of the townhouse and design the addition. Among other things, the New York City- and Washington, DC-based firm was undoubtedly chosen for its long-standing track record of successfully navigating the review process of the New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC). Known for its sensitive work on Grand Central Terminal and Ellis Island, Beyer Blinder Belle proposed for the new 95th Street building a frankly Modernist structure with a gridded veneer stone cladding and a large central bay of aluminum-and-glass curtain wall. The scheme, according to Managing Partner Fred Bland, FAIA, AICP, represents the firm’s approach to additions in historic contexts – or at least represents their response to this individual case, since the firm believes that “no one size fits all” but seeks “individual answers for individual monuments.” The architects’ approach convinced the LPC, which approved the design with only minor modifications.
If you speak with architects and consultants who appear frequently before the LPC, they characterize their perceptions of the LPC’s decisions as follows: Designs for additions to landmarks or infill buildings in historic districts that do not violate the cornice lines and overall massing of neighboring protected buildings will likely win approval, even if aggressively Modernist in style, materials and details; but new traditional designs would have a harder time being approved on the basis of style alone. Accordingly, a number of prominent New York architects specializing in projects involving landmarks have advised their clients that new traditional designs employing actual historic architectural language, such as fully realized Classicism, would likely cost them a lot more in time and money in the review process. This perception has had a chilling effect on new traditional design in historic districts in New York City and in other cities where similar views prevail.
In response, members of the LPC have publicly denied any aesthetic or stylistic bias. LPC Chairman Robert Tierney told me in an interview that “openness is our policy” and disputed the idea that the LPC has any stylistic preferences. He wouldn’t speculate on the motives of the architects who had advised clients to abandon traditional schemes, but did mention that the more “striking” contemporary buildings tend to attract more attention, whereas “ten contextual projects won’t be remembered.” To be sure, a large number of high profile contrasting Modernist buildings have been approved for landmark sites in recent years, including the Harvard Club of New York City, the Pierpont Morgan Library and the Hearst Tower, as well as smaller projects for infill sites in Greenwich Village and other neighborhoods. The Beyer Blinder Belle proposal for 95th Street certainly fits comfortably within the perceived “mainstream” of LPC-approved projects, and so it is not surprising that the LPC found the design appropriate.
There was only one problem. The developer/owner and its real estate broker, who was trying to pre-sell the units, were unhappy with the schizoid pairing of the Classical landmark and the Modernist addition. While the restored façade and interior rooms in the Trumbauer wing of the complex would be on a grand scale, the units in the new building were designed to much less luxurious contemporary apartment standards and the exterior did not bear comparison with the older building to which it would be joined. The broker advised that the units in the new building would not command the expected prices and the developer made the decision to return to a more Classical design.
In mid-2002 the developer called in Zivkovic Associates to prepare new plans and elevations for the new building based on the earlier studies by Connolly. They kept the general massing of the Beyer Blinder Belle scheme but gave the façade a strongly Classical composition along the lines of their earlier proposal. The client approved this direction and, in early 2003, asked the architects to finalize the design for re-submittal to the LPC. (Fortunately, the project enjoyed the luxury of a long time frame, as the school had arranged to remain in the buildings until their new facility was ready.)
To assist them, Zivkovic Associates assembled an unimpeachable team of consultants, including Shelly Friedman (zoning and planning attorney), Higgins & Quaesbarth (landmarks preservation consultants) and Donald Friedman (structural engineer and traditional masonry construction consultant). In its own office, partner Don Zivkovic was involved, John Spencer was appointed project architect and Pargev Vardanian was placed in charge of detailing the stonework. The firm also invited John Simpson, principal of John Simpson & Partners Ltd. of Bloomsbury, London, U.K., to join their team as an architectural consultant, particularly with respect to the exterior of the new wing.
Simpson arrived in New York from London as his Queen’s Gallery at Buckingham Palace was under construction. He clearly made an impression. Non-New Yorkers not fully appreciate how susceptible New Yorkers are to the genuine charm of a sophisticated English architect with Her Majesty the Queen topping his list of client references. (A British accent will get you almost anything in this town, just ask British architect Sir Norman Foster.) It is also perhaps not irrelevant to mention here that Zivkovic is an Australian and Connolly a native of Ireland, adding their own accents to the exotic mix of the team. Simpson, Zivkovic and Connolly worked with their respective staffs and consultants in close collaboration on the project through completion, countering the contemporary emphasis on individual “star” architects.
It isn’t often that the LPC is asked to consider a new design proposal, having already approved a different design only the year before for the same site and for the same applicant. Since the new proposal was a completely new conception, the review process started over from the beginning. Initially, the LPC was skeptical about the proposed Classical design. One staff member told Simpson, “You can’t do that – the façade has to be plain and simple.”
The LPC’s concerns seemed to focus on the question of how well the design would be executed – whether the quality of the craftsmanship in the new construction would do justice to the historic buildings around it. (Oddly, this did not seem to be an issue with the earlier Modernist design!) The commonly expressed fear is that Classical detailing, so alluring in the renderings, might end up looking thin and saccharine in execution. Admittedly, this fear is not an unreasonable one, given the plethora of ersatz Classical designs rendered in synthetic materials visible across the land.
In this case, however, the LPC’s concerns were allayed by the architects’ use of thick, load-bearing masonry walls on the two façades visible from the street, eliminating tell-tale expansion joints. These massive walls would be built more or less as Trumbauer’s had been. Substantial new windows and wrought-iron balconies completed the picture. The architects also planned carved ornament decorating the façades: swags, rosettes, anthemions, volutes and urns. Antefixae punctuated the roofline. As realized, the new building joins the 1977 addition to The Frick Collection and the 1993 addition to The Jewish Museum, both located just down Fifth Avenue, as a model of craftsmanship in limestone. The Classical detail is not skin-deep; it is the real thing.
There was another concern: Members of the LPC have said publicly that they do not look favorably on what some call “replicative” additions indistinguishable from the style of the landmark onto which they are grafted. The example often cited is Kevin Roche’s addition to The Jewish Museum, in which two bays of new Gothic stonework were seamlessly added to the original building, closely matching the historic details and materials. Many preservationists object to this approach, claiming that the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation, promulgated in 1977, mandate new construction be distinguishable from the historic fabric. This is often interpreted as requiring a Modernist expression for additions to landmarks (a view reflected in the unspoken consensus I mentioned earlier), but the whole issue remains a subject of debate.
The new design for 5 East 95th Street was different. Although generally continuous in the sense that it is also Classical, the Zivkovic/Simpson design was not a literal extension of Trumbauer’s building. In fact, it is perfectly distinguishable from the landmark next door, thereby satisfying the Secretary of the Interior’s standards. Each building would have its own distinctive character: Trumbauer’s taste was strongly influenced by late-18th-century France, but with American traits. (As Simpson says, “My God, it is American in its scale – so Roman and full!”) Simpson’s own taste inclines toward English Neoclassical models, especially the early-19th-century work of John Nash and Charles Robert Cockerell, while Zivkovic declares his admiration for the home-grown Classicism of McKim, Mead & White. But, like Trumbauer’s, the new design is an inventive work in its own right, not a copy of any other building. Together, the two structures just look like a pair of good neighbors on an historic street.
Despite being a departure from the designs it typically receives and approves, the LPC accepted the proposal after a couple of hearings, almost as a kind of experiment. Now that the built results are visible, everyone involved, including the LPC, agrees that the project worked out very nicely indeed. It remains to be seen if the convincing results of their decision will have an impact on the LPC’s review of other new traditional-design proposals that come before them in the future. At least, as a result of this precedent, some of the city’s architects will no longer be able to use the alleged preferences of the LPC as an excuse for dodging new traditional design. When I asked Chairman Tierney if he’d welcome more work like the 95th Street townhouse coming before the LPC, he responded, “We’d be delighted.” New York’s traditional architects had better get busy and take the chairman at his word.
F.J. Sciame Construction Co., Inc., of New York managed the building’s schedule (18 months from pouring foundations to receipt of a Certificate of Occupancy) and budget, despite “fast-track” release of sequential construction document packages, the demands of restoring Trumbauer’s interiors and façade and the many obstacles that typically come with construction in a Manhattan residential neighborhood.
With respect to costs, Zivkovic points out that a building of this quality was obtainable at substantially the same unit cost as new Modernist luxury apartment buildings. To be sure, there are few real estate markets in the United States with prices high enough to cover the cost of such luxurious construction, regardless of style. It is nonetheless the case that a Classical building is not necessarily more expensive than a Modernist one at the same level of quality and expectation. The difference is in the value of what the buyer receives – not a raw loft-like space with sealed concrete floors and exposed sprinklers above (as in the recent new apartment towers on West Street by Richard Meier & Partners Architects), but high ceilings with decorative plasterwork, plaster moldings on the walls, 2½-in.-thick raised-panel doors, traditional herringbone hardwood parquet floors and advanced acoustical isolation between units.
Furthermore, as Simpson points out, the Classical design of the Carhart Mansion and its addition “lends itself with particular ease to the incorporation of the latest developments in building technology.” One must also factor in life-cycle costs: solid masonry will last hundreds of years, but how long will the curtain-walls on the Meier buildings last? Sustainability, an issue Modernist architects have sought to appropriate for themselves, is a natural attribute of nearly all traditional building materials and methods, in contrast to industrialized techniques and synthetic materials, which consume energy both in their manufacture and in their use. In Europe, as Simpson points out, requirements for reduced energy consumption and increased insulation have made Modernist curtain-wall systems more expensive than traditional masonry.
Ultimately, the choice of putting up a Classical building on this site was determined by financial and marketing factors: the owner decided that only such a building would generate the returns sought for the project, a direct reflection of its desirability in the eyes of prospective buyers. This exposes and refutes the myth that only Modernist buildings make economic sense; it also underscores the critical role of an informed client in advancing both the building culture and the market. Other brokers and developers have taken notice and the team for this project is exploring new opportunities on other sites.
Perhaps the strongest aspect of the completed new building is the way it works three-dimensionally in its urban setting. Unlike most townhouses, 5 East 95th Street is semi-detached – it abuts an open space to the east. The articulated front block of the building turns a corner, offering a second front to the Fabbri Mansion courtyard next door, complete with a balustraded balcony at the second floor and a pediment at the top of the east elevation. The rooftop of the new building is a collection of pavilions and terraces, (“a little Palatine hill” in Simpson’s words) stepping back in response to zoning height limitations. These moves enliven the streetscape and make the new townhouse not just a demure background building, but an active player in the little society of buildings making up the block.
Looking more closely, the exterior restoration of the Trumbauer building is entirely convincing and the architects have managed to re-establish the original character of the building as a grand residence. Trumbauer’s principal interiors were restored, in particular the elegant stair hall and the grand salon on the street at the second floor. Other interiors, though designed in character with the historic architecture, are largely under the control of the buyers and, therefore, subject to change.
As faultless as we believe Trumbauer’s façade to be (and I think it is), the new building is designed so that we no longer see it as an addition or competitor, but as a confident and worthy neighbor. It is worth a moment to see how this was achieved. While the new building maintains key horizontal alignments, such as floor levels, cornice and window heads and sills, the new street façade subtly detaches itself from its historic neighbor by changing the scale of the rustication on the ground floor and separating the piano nobile and third floors, in contrast to Trumbauer’s linkage of these two floors by pilaster strips and recessed spandrels. These contrasts are subtle but effective and give Number 5 a sense of mass, figural intensity and dignity that allows it to hold its own as a partner, rather than an adjunct, to Trumbauer’s robust Number 3 next door.
Another subtlety is found in the way the vertical non-alignment of the window openings on the street elevation reinforces the stolid horizontality of the new façade. Each group of three openings is centered on its respective floor, but the groups narrow as they rise, making the building seem heavier on top. While this is usually not a desirable trait in a Classical composition, it makes visual sense in combination with the adjacent Trumbauer façade, with its insistent verticality. The slightly unexpected heaviness and horizontality of the addition is just what is needed to “bookend” the pair and turn the corner at the Fabbri courtyard. The east elevation on the courtyard, with its pediment and implied Palladian window, re-establishes a vertical emphasis, anchoring the street façade like a little tower. This is Classical design of a very sophisticated and confident sort.
Not visible from the street, the rear courtyard of the new wing makes a delightful space out of what might have been an indifferent light well: it is rendered in brick with jolly wrought-iron balconies that, like those on the south and east elevations, were fabricated by English craftspeople.
A single critical comment concerns the carved-stone ornament on the new building, which simply does not rise to the exquisite level of that on Trumbauer’s façade. Given the state of art and architecture today, it would be extraordinary if it did; it is rare enough to find a new building today that has any ornament at all. And yet the juxtaposition highlights the relative crudeness of the new anthemions, sculpted panels, rosettes and tendrils on the sides of the consoles below the balcony. This crudeness is not just a matter of style, but of sculptural refinement. The decorative panels below the third-floor windows might have been better had they, like Trumbauer’s, been recessed instead of projecting from the wall surface. They and the rosettes between them look simply stuck on rather than integral with the wall. While good decorative sculpture is still hard to find today, the quality of carved and molded ornament in general is improving as supply begins to adjust to demand. With so many great examples even within the neighborhood, it should not be difficult to raise the bar in this area, too.
In my view, 5 East 95th Street is an outstanding example of new Classical work in an urban setting and, one hopes, a harbinger of more and better work still to come. It is impressive not only because it is well designed and executed, but because it does more than just “fit in.” Think of adding a new building to an historic context as like walking into a party and joining a conversation already in progress: The newcomer might timidly nod his head and agree with everything the other people say; the new person might rudely interject irrelevancies and vulgar language; or the newcomer might smoothly, almost without the other speakers being aware of it, guide the conversation into new subjects. This last option is what the Zivkovic/Simpson team has done in this project. It was gutsy for them to look upon the Trumbauer house not as some aloof and untouchable personage, but as an older peer – something one approaches with respect but not obsequiousness. Conversation is possible, and on a high level. Is this not a model for how new traditional architecture, urbanism and historic preservation should work together to bring civility and continuity to the city? Is that not precisely what good urban architecture is supposed to do?
Steven W. Semes is an architect in practice in New York, NY; Francis and Kathleen Rooney Chair in Architecture, University of Notre Dame; Fellow, The Institute of Classical Architecture & Classical America; and author of the forthcoming book, The Future of the Past: A Conservation Ethic for Architecture, Urbanism, and Historic Preservation.
Thanks to all the people who offered to help at Tony Robinson’s “Tour of Duty” Community Day this Sunday, but unfortunately our stall is no longer required.
The Company organsing the event are looking for military memorabilia and the like and whilst Henty explained that we are “not that kind of Society”, they invited us anyway.
On checking with them earlier this week to get the finer details, it now seems they have sharpened their focus for the Baldrick event and without our own khaki and green subject matter to contribute, we are not needed on parade!.
So the orders for the day (Sunday) are “Stand Down!”
Come along to the Army Museum in Burt Street from 11:30 this Sunday, and have a look around — and bring any military bits you might have that you would like the experts to comment on — but the FS will not be flying the flag this time around and will be keeping the powder dry!
Once again — very much appreciate the offers of help from the 10 good people who volunteered to man the stall.