Preservationists concerned over Apple’s proposed renovations for second NYC Apple Store

“Plunked amid a phalanx of ornate buildings on Fifth Avenue – structures with classic Greek columns, cast-iron arches, filigreed cresting and intricate friezes – is a two-story stub of a building that has preservationists gnashing their teeth at the Apple Computer Company,” Dennis Hevesi reports for The New York Times. “The preservationists do not particularly want the decidedly unremarkable, 3,550-square-foot building at 136 Fifth Avenue, between 18th and 19th Streets, to be preserved. They are not demanding that its proposed replacement mirror the florid style of its environs.”

“But if Apple hopes to get its plans for a retail store approved by the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, the preservationists at least want the building to bear some of the architectural basics of its neighbors. Plans for the site, in the Ladies’ Mile Historic District, are subject to commission approval,” Hevesi reports. “Apple’s first plan, to simply replace the aluminum-framed storefront of what had been the Andrews Coffee Shop with a gray limestone facade – its logo of a large once-bitten apple etched into the stone – ran into opposition from Community Board 5, a local advisory body. Its second proposal, said Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, a nonprofit preservation group, ‘presents this flat pane of glass that would be more appropriate to an aquarium.'”

“The landmarks commission will hold a public hearing on the second plan either on Aug. 8 or Aug. 16,” Hevesi reports.

Full article here.

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RUMOR: Apple Store coming to Midtown Manhattan beneath transparent glass cube – March 04, 2005

12 Comments

  1. I’ve been on that corner, and the existing building is indeed dull and lifeless, but the surrounding buildings are archaic throwbacks to the past… What the hell is with people that have such lack of taste that can’t understand modern architecture for the art that it is?

    Preservationist societies like that just steam me to no end, always trying to save ugly crap with some occasional tis-bits of niceties.

  2. 5th Avenue is ugly, you’ve got it wrong.

    You’re making the mistake of viewing preservationism through the lens of aesthetics; in other words, thinking it means “let’s save the pretty buildings, for their appearance.”

    Preservationism is about valuing history and older buildings simply because they’re irreplacable and embody material ties to a lost world (the era when they were built). The aesthetic value gets emphasised as a way to get lay-people interested: “Look at this beautiful old building! Don’t you want to see it preserved?”

    Especially in Manhattan (since it’s land-locked) there’s always going to be a developer ready to tear something down and build something else on the same site. Preservationism simply counteracts this force with another force with a different agenda. If it makes for a prettier street, so much the better.

  3. Jordan, the problem is not the desire to preserve the old buildings, but the refusal to allow a modern building to adjoin them, in some vain attempt to preserve an entire district. Unfortunately the district has already been compromised by the existing eyesore, so wouldn’t it be better to replace it with a modern building that has its own esthetic values, rather than a pale pastiche of its surroundings? There’s no reason why old and modern can’t coexist without the latter having to ape the former…

  4. Look at the Apple Store in London. Apple never even tried to tear down the historic building there. They used the architecture there and had no choice about it.

    They obviously hoped to be able to replace a run down building with a more modern style. Unfortunately for them, it does seem like they will be allowed to.

    Question is does Apple really want to build something new or will they move to another location. Hopefully they have a get out clause if this kind of problem cropped up.

  5. “What the hell is with people that have such lack of taste that can’t understand modern architecture for the art that it is?”

    Don’t for one moment believe that because architecture is modern that it automatically follows that it’s art. The International Style, as expounded by Le Corbusier and Mies van Der Rohe, has resulted in collections of soulless glass boxes that render modern cities completely dull and homogenous. It is important to note that both architects were fans of Stalin and Hitler, respectively, and they interpreted “modernist” to mean “impersonal”. Le Corbusier, in fact, designed the Palace of the Soviets for Stalin. In the words of Frank Buckley,

    “What mattered was not people but fidelity to a theory. People could always be reshaped. Le Corbusier, for instance, believed that families should be broken up and society reassembled into phalanxes of several hundred people each. Hence the large buildings, the small apartments, and the oversized common areas to foster communard solidarity.

    Both architects were proponents of the idea that the state is more important than the people; in other words, totalitarianism. Their designs were a deliberate attempt to reduce buildings to “machines for living in”, in the words of Le Corbusier. They rejected architecture that they considered “humanist”, or that celebrated individual tastes. Even the great American modernist Phillip Johnson was an outspoken supporter of the Nazis. This is historical fact.

    The existing buildings on 5th Avenue may indeed be ugly (I can’t say, having never been there), but there is such a thing as context. In many cases, “modern” only means “new”, not more beautiful. If you want modern architecture that I personally consider beautiful, take a look at the works of Santiago Calatrava. In any case, I’m confident that a resolution can be achieved, as Apple’s architect has stated that the discussions with the review board are far from adversarial.

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