June 7, 2012
By: Tom Stoelker
Last night Community Board 4 voted to support Jamestown Properties proposal to add 330,000 feet to the Chelsea Market building. The design morphed significantly from the initial multi-volume glass box approach introduced in 2010, to a steel-trussed cantilever form fronting Tenth Avenue shown late last year, to its current terracotta clad contextual approach. Throughout, Studios Architecture principal David Burns has presented plans before a resistant community who cherish the market and are suddenly overrun with High Line tourists.
The much-maligned ULURP process that brought the proposal to CB4 has foes on both sides of the development fence. Community activists feel that their advisory role doesn’t have sharp enough teeth, while architects and developers feel it’s a bloated process that waters down planning and design. The extreme metamorphosis of the Chelsea project seems to be a poster child for the give and take approach.
“The original purpose was to relate by contrast, as a foil, and now they’re not even doing that,” said architect and Save Chelsea board member David Holowka. The architect was referring to the Tenth Avenue section, where a cantilevered form jutted out over the old structure, with a large void separating the old market from the new addition on top. The exposed trussed structure formed a box that sat within a brise-soleil clad box facing the east.
Though the trussed structural solution remains, Burns said that to address the community’s desire for further contextualization, the trusses will now be clad in terracotta, to cooperate with a warehouse building across Tenth Avenue. The intentionally disjointed gap between the two structures will now be enclosed in glass and brick detailing in an effort to ground the building, thus hiding engineering that allows the addition to metaphorically float free from the past. “We want to make sure there’s not false sense historicism,” said Burns. The use of terracotta would bring the color into coordination with the variegated brick below, without adding too much weight. Along Ninth Avenue, the composition remains much the same though a reduction in height allows widows of the new addition to align with those in the older building.
But Holowka still found the efforts lacking. “No amount of design massaging will change what a zoning atrocity this is,” he said. As the High Line runs through Chelsea Market, the architect also called into question the zoning change will allow Jamestown to build within the footprint of the park. Even with the recent elimination of the hotel component, many voiced concern that the added pedestrian traffic will devastate an already congested area.
Despite a strong turnout from Jamestown’s tenants who testified that the company was a landlord who nurtured their small business, many in the community smelled something fishy. One noted that the new agreement would transfer the ground floor from 80 percent food vendors to 50 percent, the community board wants 60 percent. The board also wants offsite affordable housing to be provided within CB4 district. Still others thought the whole thing was a real estate sham. “Jamestown buys, builds, sells, leaves; that’s what they do,” said resident Stephen Jobes. Caitlin Cahill, a professor of environmental psychology and urban studies at CUNY Grad Center was even more blunt. “It’s so shady and so corrupt, it’s not even subtle,” she said. She urged to board to halt the project–to no avail.