Upper East Side Historic District
Application is to demolish a non-historic four-story building at 760 Madison Avenue and construct a new building on the site. The application also includes work on existing buildings at 19 and 21 East 65th Street: rooftop additions, alterations and new construction at light well and rear, and storefront infill.
CB8 Hearing: 02/04/19 (Approved)
LPC Hearing: 03/26/19 (No Action)
LPC Meeting: 05/14/19 (Approved)
While the existing building at 760 Madison Avenue was only constructed in 1996 after the designation of the Upper East Side Historic District, it is unfortunate to see the demolition of such a recent building as FRIENDS finds adaptive re-uses to be preferable in terms of environmental sustainability and maintaining the character of the district. That being said, FRIENDS is not opposed to the massing of the main corner portion of this proposed apartment building at the intersection of Madison Avenue and East 65th Street. We approve of the decision to clad the main structure of the corner portion of the proposed building in limestone as this is a material traditionally associated with apartment buildings of a similar scale. However, our Preservation Committee feels that the fluting would best be contained at the base of the building. We are somewhat troubled by the excessive use of aluminum in this application. There is significant use of painted aluminum in elements of the water tower enclosure and the exteriors of the individual penthouse units, as well as the primary material used in each window division. Painted aluminum is not sensitive to the material composition of the Upper East Side Historic District and to the otherwise luxurious finishes on the proposed building.
FRIENDS feels that the applicants have been unsuccessful with the treatment of the core of the proposed structure. The design choices on the secondary and tertiary facades fall short of the applicants’ desire to evoke the appearance of an un-designed lot-line elevation on the portion of new building that encroaches into the existing buildings on 65th Street. Firstly, a lot line does just that—denotes the end of a property as it falls on the side of a structure. By setting this faux “lot-line” within the center of the new building lot, the architect created a three-dimensional form where the eye expects the sheer single plane of a large apartment house’s envelope. Secondly, the choice of high-end limestone, uniform windows, and highly-designed chamfered corners is not sufficiently deferential to either the newly designed primary facades or to the existing historic context. Additionally, the proposed bulk leaves 19 and 21 East 65th Street with the appearance of cowering at the feet of a stark monolith, as opposed to co-existing with a new neighboring structure.
The mass that is set to loom over number 19 and especially 21 East 65th Street highly detracts from the unique character of these rowhouses in the district. Back in the late 1980s when Hugh Hardy was proposing to construct a new apartment tower at this same location, FRIENDS’ first president, Halina Rosenthal staunchly opposed the demolition of 21 East 65th Street and 762 Madison Avenue. She emphasized the importance of deference to these row-house forms for their innate contribution to the Upper East Side Historic District. In Halina’s words:
“The Character and the ambiance of the Upper East Side Historic District is largely based upon the low-rise and small scale buildings such as these, they are what determines the District’s special character and its sense of place. Madison Avenue and its prestigious elegant shops depend upon the human scale of the street, and looking up and down the avenue one is aware of this characteristic trait more than of anything else… If the scale of Madison Avenue were to be altered and the small buildings replaced by towers… its charm would be gone.”
While this proposal from CookFox does not hope to demolish the neighboring buildings, the detrimental effect on 21 East 65th Street that Halina forecast is before us again.
Lastly, FRIENDS appreciates the thought that went into designing the series of setbacks on the upper floors of the new apartment building, but we feel that the design can be refined to reduce the symmetry of the different penthouse structures. The success of the set-backs seen on apartment buildings within the district is the sense of irregular and cascading forms that punctuate roof-lines, and this proposal misses the mark in regards to this effect.
FRIENDS of the Upper East Side suggests that the applicants revisit this proposal and further refine its design to be more sensitive to its historic surroundings. Any new building of this scale within a historic district is a significantly impactful addition and we feel that the issues outlined in this testimony ought to be addressed so the ultimate design can be a positive and permanent addition to Madison Avenue.
FRIENDS is dismayed to see that few of our initial concerns were addressed in these newly revised plans. In our March 26th testimony, FRIENDS stated that the fluted masonry would be best contained at the base of the building and, while horizontal banding has been added to accentuate the building’s base, we don’t feel that the slight changes to the depth of the flutes as the floors levels change to be a sufficient correction to the original design. Additionally, we still feel that the extensive use of painted aluminum is completely inappropriate and that actual bronze should be utilized throughout the entire building.
That being said, we are glad to see the further articulated windows as they reinforce the apartment house scale common on Madison Avenue. However, we still feel that the Madison Avenue elevation and main 65th Street elevation are far too symmetrical and have not successfully referenced the cascading penthouse setbacks of comparable contributing apartments in the Upper East Side Historic District.
Finally, we still cannot support the size and appearance of the central core of the proposed building set in the center of the block beyond the corner elevations. In contrast to the appropriately-scaled facades immediately abutting Madison Avenue and 65th Streets, the recessed core volume is towering monolith will sit ominously behind numbers 19 and 21 East 65th Street and significantly detract from the character of this street which has been defined by its low-rise rowhouse scale since the 19th century.
We recall the words of our founding President, Halina Rosenthal, who emphatically stated that “the Character and the ambiance of the Upper East Side Historic District is largely based upon the low-rise and small scale buildings such as these (on East 65th Street), they are what determines the District’s special character and its sense of place. Madison Avenue and its prestigious elegant shops depend upon the human scale of the street, and looking up and down the avenue one is aware of this characteristic trait more than of anything else.” Respecting the historic character of low-rise residences on the Upper East Side has been a central tenet of FRIENDS mission for the past 37 years, and we intend to continue to advocate for their protection.