Donald Judd’s Home and Studio at 101 Spring Street: Conserving a Monument to Contemporary Art


by Kristina Nugent

The building located on 101 Spring Street in New York was inhabited but moreover, subtly transformed by the creative, minimalist philosophy of Donald Judd. Each of Judd’s own interventions in the building were deliberate acts. He approached the building and his inhabitation of it in much the same manner as he approached the design of his artwork.  At one point Judd declared:

It isn’t necessary for a work to have a lot of things to look at, to compare, to analyze one by one, to contemplate. The thing as a whole, its quality as a whole, is what is interesting. The main things are alone and are more intense, clear, and powerful. They are not diluted by an inherited format, variations of a form, mild contrasts, and connecting parts and areas… (1)


My interpretation of the space, based on a series of visits, discussions with the Judd Foundation, and archival research focused on the autonomy yet relativity of the objects that reside there. The individual objects – and the building as the largest such object – stand as testament to an exciting art and social epoch in SoHo that occurred between the years 1968 to 1972, when Judd and his family occupied the building which functioned as both their home, and his primary studio.


The first grounding condition for my project was a desire to examine the collection of art and everyday objects, as well as the theories and aspirations that accompanied them, which came to be “permanently installed” in 101 Spring Street by the artist himself. Existing interpretations of 101 Spring Street have tended to emphasize the differences; the building as a home versus its use as a de facto gallery space for permanently installed works of art.


My interpretation aimed to show that drawing comparisons between the everyday domestic items and art objects would not limit, but rather expand the significance of the collection. This allow us to think more broadly about what Judd was trying to achieve both formally and conceptually, and why these aims are so compelling when interpreted within the particular historical context of 101 Spring Street.


An emphasis that ran throughout my interpretive experiment was to understand what the artist intended and how the works were seen or meant to be seen in the lifetime in which they were made. Of course I did not intend for this history to pretend to forget the experience of the work in the present. But I found myself wanting to have that experience in the present be as much informed as possible by what we know of the original context. This is in part because I found that many aspects of that original context carried over into the present. Many of the questions that were being asked continue to be asked. Beyond my hope for how a more objects-based interpretation might have contributed to our formal under- standing of Judd’s work and life, there was also the fact that Judd was not working in isolation and the visitor experience of 101 Spring Street needed to draw the visitor’s attention to those interactions. The experience needed to allow the viewer to become self-reflexive.


In order for the visitor to better relate to the inanimate objects and understand the non-physical and historical dimension of the collection and greater building, a historically-based interrogation of the objects seemed paramount. The irony of Judd’s work and life, and the interpretation of its Minimalist, or Reductionist principles is the sheer complexity of this task. As Hal Foster observed in The Return of the Real:

On first glance it all looks so simple, yet in each body of work a perceptual ambiguity complicates things. At odds with the specific objects of Judd is his nonspecific composition (‘one thing after another’) … So what you see is what you see, as Frank Stella famously said, but things are never as simple as they seem … perception is made reflexive in these works and so rendered complex… Minimalist sculpture no longer stands apart on a pedestal or as pure art but is repositioned among objects and redefined in terms of place. (2)


The material records found in 101 Spring varied from Judd’s industrially fabricated cubes, to works of art from his peers and mentors, common kitchen utensils, as well as tribal artwork of Judd’s personal collection. My first impulse was to approach each object and ask how and why these objects are situated in a particular place and in relation to other physicalities and psyches that occupy the space. My proposal was to address each object, individually but relativistically through the means of an interdisciplinary discourse investigating what those circumstances (both historical and present) might mean, and how they might change as the building is restored or through the passage of time.


After inventorying all of the objects in the home and studio space that ranged from banal house- hold items to contemporary artistic masterpieces, there were hundreds of items; far too many to explore all at once. So I began to devise a strategy for interpreting the greater collection. I elected to begin with the “permanent installation,” of works of art, not by Judd, but by his contemporaries. These artworks were either gifts to Judd or purchased by Judd, and he installed them in 101 Spring Street in a manner consistent with his artistic philosophy. Many of Judd’s own formative concepts grew out of a critical understanding of the work of other New York artists during his time. Frank Stella and Claes Oldenburg were specifically referenced in Judd’s treatise on ‘Specific Objects’ in 1965. Since these works were so crucial to the personal history and development of Judd as an artist, they seemed to be a logical starting point for my interpretive concept:

The Conservation of the Novros Fresco


Now that the topic was narrowed down to a few dozen objects, I came upon a piece of artwork commissioned by Donald Judd in 1969 that seemed to encapsulate both his idea of “permanent installation,” of Minimalism, and had been unavoidably damaged with oil stains that were slowly seeping through the floor joists of the building from the ceiling above and required continual intervention by both the artist, and involvement by Judd himself. The artist of the piece, David Novros began the execution of a traditional fresco in the minimalist aesthetic in 1970 on the second floor kitchen space of the home and studio of Donald Judd. According to the artist, this was the first buon fresco he attempted:

When it was done, took into consideration every possible contingency about damage. [Judd and Novros, together] took the wall down to the brick, we scrubbed the brick with acid, we did everything we could, and really approached it from absolute by-the-book form. When it was finished it was perfect; essentially, technically, and it stayed that way for a couple of years.”

Yet, the inherent conditions of 101 Spring Street, a former garment factory, created unforeseen complications in retaining the original intention of the artist and his patron:


After three years, a stain began to appear in the center in the white area, coming from the ceiling. After awhile the stain spread. It also spread on the floor above and started to brown the plaster walls. The stain, I think, and so did most of the people who were there and so did Don at the time, was coming from oil on the jousts of the floors when this place housed machinery. And this oil was migrating ‘willy nilly’ down the walls and was staining the painting. I attempted to restore it. I tried to seal it off and touch-in the affected areas. At that time, there was not too much damage. But the stain re-appeared and it kept reappearing and I kept trying to restore it and this went on for a number of years. (3)

At what point should the artist have discontinued his intervention? Was the rationale be- hind these successive efforts flawed to begin with? To what extent is this activity permissible? According to what standards of care? For most practitioners in architectural and fine arts conservation, retaining authenticity meant leaving the historic objects alone and conserving them using as much original material as possible. This accomplished, to the greatest extent possible, a visually unaltered presentation of an important remnant from the past. Yet, within the standard and most-often-referenced conservation guidelines promoted by the American Institute of Conservation, flexible standards and guidelines apply to works of art where justification for a more radical conservation approach is available.

Traditional Fresco Conservation Methods

In traditional paintings conservation there have been two camps—imitative restoration and trateggio that are most often discussed in relation to European works of art before 1900. Imitative restoration came out of the connoisseurship world and held the viewpoint that with the proper knowledge of an artist’s technique, use of ma- terials, and careful analysis, it was possible to recreate the areas of loss so that the work read as a unified whole.

To achieve this, the conservator generally applied a separating layer of varnish and then worked in custom water colors to add the missing elements, or correct the flaws, into the original image. The theory was that this intervention could all be wiped away with a damp cloth if tastes or conservation principles changed and it was useful to see the actual image with losses.

Trateggio, the other school of thought, was an Italian conservation method pioneered by the Istituto Centrale di Restau- ro (ICR) in Rome and championed by Cesare Brandi, an early and influential writer on conservation practice. Using this method, the conservator did not imitate the losses, but used sympathetic tones and tiny cross-hatches to fill the voids so that at an appropriate distance the eye “filled in” the space, but on close inspection it is clear that the losses remain.


Conservation of Contemporary Art

In recent years, works by Contemporary artists have posed new challenges for art conservators, who have in turn developed new techniques and ways of determining appropriate conservation treatments in response to these challenges. On January 24th to 26th of 2008, the Getty Conservation Institute hosted a conference to investigate, “The Object in Transition: A Cross Disciplinary Conference on the Preservation and Study of Modern and Con- temporary Art.” The conference set out to address these very challenges faced by conservators, art historians, curators, and artists regarding Modern and Contemporary artworks:

There is often no codified method for conserving such works; further, the insistent but uneven rate of deterioration present in many objects has left us with countless works of art that now diverge starkly from their original form. The practical and interpretative problems that arise in relation to durability and ephemerality in modern and contemporary art are exacerbated by an art-historical methodology that tends to privilege theoretical interpretation over concrete object study.

The descriptive knowledge that originates in object and technique-based study has increasingly left the field of art history, falling instead within the domain of art conservation… However, the challenges posed by modern materials often lead to decisions about an object’s preservation and acceptable aging that are based on more subjective inferences about the artist’s original intent—an interpretive concept that many art historians view with some skepticism.


Returning to the Novros fresco at 101 Spring Street, it poses a similar challenge as the one described above. On the one hand it was executed using traditional buon fresco techniques and could arguably be conserved according to standard fresco conservation methods, previously described, which include either imitative restoration or trateggio techniques. Yet, Novros’s fresco, which is categorized as a Minimalist piece of artwork, would then be considered neither “painting nor sculpture,” following Judd’s insistence, he articulated in “Specific Objects.” Therefore, this fresco necessitates a unique conservation solution, which is more in keeping with the challenges the Getty Conference attempted to address.

In common practice, there appears to be a disconnect between the various schools of thought regarding restoration of Contemporary artwork. Rarely are professional standards and personal opinions forced to be publicly reconciled in order to reach a more comprehensive resolution of how to best proceed with the art object in question. Philosophical underpinnings of artistic intent juxtaposing museum and standards of conservation and care must be negotiated in order to reconcile the historicity and the integrity of an object.

This interpretive exercise required me to jump ahead and make several assumptions in order to reflect on the value and utility of my proposal. The oil stains interfered with the reading of the artwork and masked the original artistic intent of Novros, and Judd who commissioned the work. I decided that the fresco required an extensive level of intervention, but grappled with how best to proceed. The American Institute for Conservation’s guidelines mentioned that, “In some cases a decision to allow deterioration to occur by avoiding certain preservation practices may be appropriate. Such decisions should be made only in collaboration with appropriate individuals connected with the cultural property.” When does an art object become historical – and how can we reconcile this notion by contrasting it with the point in which an object loses its integrity?

In this case, the living artist was consulted on the matter, and he insisted that if deterioration were allowed to occur, the entire piece would be lost since the oil seepage was gradual yet unending. Ultimately the entire fresco would read as an oil stain. Given the fresco’s importance, both to the artist and the Judd Foundation as the first permanently installed piece in 101 Spring Street, the conservation treatment would need to be somewhat radical. The artist’s suggestion of inserting a thin membrane of an impenetrable substrate over the original fresco and simply applying new plaster and pigment to this new surface was a suggestion that seemed sensible. For one thing, the original piece was protected and retained under the new layer of material and a careful replication of the work would be inserted as close to the original location as possible. How would the membrane affect the replica? The artist was not a conservation specialist, how can he possibly predict whether this is indeed the best solution. How would this treatment affect the rest of the building? Wouldn’t a restoration architecture firm need to be consulted. What is the cost associated with this intervention?

How has the Judd Foundation prioritized this conservation project over other projects scheduled for 101 Spring Street? What were the associated costs? The point is that these decisions are not simple and can not be entrusted to one contractor, or resolved by hearing one opinion. We shall soon see as Judd’s Home and Studio is set to open in June 2013!


It will be exciting to see what programs will be announced shortly. I am hopeful that aside from viewing art, another goal of the Foundation will be to open up these dialogues, and to re-visit the objects of 101 Spring Street, understand their individual and collective meaning, and enliven the context for the interpretation and conservation of 101 Spring Street. I look forward to once-again returning to 101 Spring Street to re-visit the extraordinary life and work of Donald Judd.


Please visit the Donald Judd Foundation for more information about Judd’s Home and Studio and the completion of the restoration and re-opening to the public in June 2013.

1. Donald Judd, 1965 in Twentieth Century Artists on Art. (New York: Pantheon Books, 1985), 220-221.

2. Foster, Hal. The Return of the Real: The Avant-Garde at the end of the Century. (Cambridge: MIT Press, 2002), 37-38.

3. (These statements were transcribed from the conference held at the Getty Institute in Santa Monica held on Saturday 26, 2008 on the topic: ‘The Object in transition: A Cross-Disciplinary Conference on the Preservation and Study of Modern and Contemporary Art.’)


Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego: an inventive re-use of the Santa Fe Station Baggage Building


by Kristina Nugent

Santa Fe Station in San Diego reveals a more general truth about the attempt to celebrate historic buildings while providing for contemporary uses. The Santa Fe Station was successfully preserved in two distinct stages. The first stage began with local preservation efforts that succeeded in placing the building on the Local and National Register in the 1970s. That effort was enhanced by the supporting decision of the Santa Fe Real Estate Corporation to abandon its plans for demolition in favor of leasing the Santa Fe Depot to Amtrak and transferring the Baggage Building to the City of San Diego for use as a cultural institution. The second stage of preservation concerned the new use of the historic Baggage Building from being a relatively underutilized storage space and railroad archives to undertaking a high-profile renovation of the historic building for use by the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD), and an adjoining contemporary addition for administrative and educational space designed by Richard Gluckman.


When the Santa Fe Railroad Company built the San Diego railroad station and baggage building in 1915 it was part of a large and profitable network for the Santa Fe Railroad. In 1965 the Santa Fe Station was documented by the Historic American Buildings Survey (HABS) under the direction of Robert Bruegmann who noted: “The Santa Fe Depot is a well planned and attractive early twentieth century railroad station. Although traditional in design, symmetrical and monumental, it incorporated modern features for its date: a steel skeleton, easily maintained and permanent decorative materials, and an advanced layout allowing good circulation and separation of the various station functions.”[i] Coinciding with the HABS survey, the local nomination was approved in 1971. Early preservationists continued to submit the necessary paperwork in order for the Santa Fe Depot and baggage building to officially make the National Register on June 26, 1972.[ii] The reasons cited for the building’s significance included its architectural merit as a modern train station for its time, as well as its importance in the development of the San Diego region in linking the city to the larger Western transportation networks in the earliest years of the twentieth century. The Santa Fe Station survived the tumultuous nineteen thirties through sixties as other nearby depots were demolished.


The Station, located in downtown San Diego’s “Columbia” District was the seed of the city’s spectacular twentieth-century growth and development.[iii] The “Spanish Mission/Colonial Revival-style” Depot and baggage building was completed on March 17, 1915 by the renowned San Francisco architecture firm Bakewell and Brown.[iv] The station and baggage building was used extensively in the first few decades of the twentieth century. But as new technologies, especially the automobile, replaced passenger trains by mid-century, as early as the nineteen thirties and forties, the Santa Fe Company began pulled up tracks, abandon depots, and allow railroads to function primarily as a freight business.[v] Even though the Baggage Building was no longer useful for modern travel, since passenger use had decreased and the days of heavy steamer trunks had passed, the Santa Fe Station’s prominent downtown location coupled with its historical importance and recognized architecture contributed to its survival. [vi]


But by the 1970s, the Santa Fe Company was forced to convert itself into a realty company. Santa Fe Realty owned seventeen acres of land near the downtown San Diego waterfront and proposed to demolish the Depot building in order to make a greater profit by selling virgin land.[vii] Realizing the iconic Santa Fe Station was in peril of demolition, a group of four architectural professionals and a local professor began drafting a nomination in 1971 to place the Santa Fe Station on the local register of historic landmarks.[viii] While the Santa Fe Realty Company eventually sold a large majority of its San Diego waterfront acreage to developers, they no longer toyed with the idea of demolishing the historic Santa Fe Building and the depot continued to operate as such after Santa Fe Realty reached an agreement with Amtrak in 1971. When the original City of San Diego and Santa Fe Realty agreement was made in 1983, the City was desperate to attract developers to its second-rate real estate market downtown. According to a 1994 article in Urban Land, the City of San Diego at that time “envisioned a high-rise commercial office center of more than 6 million square feet, including the development of air space over two rail lines.” [ix]

After local forces mobilized to defend the Santa Fe Station, in 1974 the City of San Diego and the Santa Fe Realty Company were able to save the station by incorporating a new use. The City Manager submitted a Project Application to the Environmental Quality Department which stated, “It is the intent of the City to purchase the Santa Fe Depot and storage buildings … the acquisition is based upon the demonstrated need and desirability of a centralized transportation terminal/visitor-oriented facility … The existing Santa Fe Station is ideally sited and functionally designed for such activities.”[x] The application went on to mention the extent of development along the San Diego waterfront during that time and noted that the City “has worked with representatives of private development firms in regard to joint public/private development of the depot site. Joint use proposals suggest concentrated transit user/visitor oriented commercial development along the lines of Ghirardelli Square in San Francisco, integrated with transit and transportation linkages.”[xi] The City of San Diego, as part of the application process, was later required to submit supplemental information providing “background concerning the significance of the historical structure on the property” and also public input (in the form of letters).[xii] One of the letters read: “The Santa Fe Depot gives a unique quiet quality that is quickly disappearing in the rapidly expanding downtown area.[xiii]


Negotiations and Concessions

While the permit to retain the Baggage Building was approved in 1974, it was not until 1983 that the City of San Diego and Santa Fe Realty entered into a “development and owner participation agreement, which provided development entitlements for the approximately 17 acres in the environs of the Santa Fe Depot.”[xiv] According to Price, the City of San Diego refurbished the building’s interior and in November of 1985, in order to mark the “100th year of the arrival of the first transcontinental train to San Diego.”[xv]By the nineties the City government and Catellus development (formerly Santa Fe Realty Co.) revised their master plan for the 17 acres to include lower densities that would provide a  “more appropriate sense of scale and place.”[xvi] Coinciding with the City’s preference for a “more welcoming scale for the neighborhood,” Catellus “agreed to dedicate the baggage building to the city for use as a railroad museum” in order to “enhance the site’s appeal.”[xvii] However, The adjoining baggage building remained vacant for over a decade.[xviii]

According to former board member of the San Diego Railroad Museum, the City of San Diego allowed the railroad museum to use the Santa Fe baggage building in the early nineties to house the archival collections for the San Diego and Arizona railroad and the Southern Pacific railroad.[xix] Yet, as one critic noted “When it granted a space to the San Diego Railroad Museum nearly a decade ago, the CCDC felt that such a showcase would be a perfect fit. In truth, that institution has used the space only for storing its archives, and has never shown the financial ability to make wider use of the space for exhibitions or other public programming.”[xx] The City of San Diego and Catellus Development Corporation reached an agreement on June 27, 1997 that Catellus would seismically retrofit the building and add electricity, water, sewer and telephone. Additionally, this agreement provided for the transfer of the baggage building “to the City or any governmental agency or non-profit entity designated by the City, at no cost to the City, for use as a museum or for such other cultural/institutional use.’”[xxi] The contract went on to stipulate that the City or a “bona fide tenant selected by the city” would be expected to carry out typical tenant improvements and “specialized expenses (such as utilities, maintenance, capital reserves), and staffing and programming expenses…”[xxii] In June of 2000 the City of San Diego, under the guidance of the Centre City Development Corporation (CCDC), a division of the city planning department, determined that the Railroad Museum was unable to maintain the building and advertised for a new tenant. They mailed a letter of solicitation to more than ninety non-profit cultural groups suggested by the City’s Commission for Arts and Culture.”[xxiii]


New Venue for Contemporary Art

On March 28, 2000 the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego (MCASD) submitted a letter of interest to become the tenant of the Baggage Building.[xxiv] The MCASD had used a portion of the Baggage Building (that was not occupied by the railroad archives), in 1994 and again in 1997 as a gallery space for “inSITE,” a citywide art exhibition. According to a San Diego art reporter, this event “proved the value of this Mission-style building as art space. Such large-scale works as Robert Therrien’s giant table with matching chairs and Mildred Howard’s architectural sculptures in wood and bottles were a fine fit for the aged rooms.”[xxv] Director of the MCASD, Hugh Davies, also noted how the use of the space during “inSITE94 and inSITE97 attest[ed] to the ideal conditions of these interior spaces for showcasing large-scale contemporary artworks, an area for which MCA is internationally known.”[xxvi] He went on to mention how the museum “has the ability and resources to commence with [the renovation and rehabilitation] project as soon as possible; our Endowment Fund is now nearly $40 million.”[xxvii] Additionally, Davis mentioned in a KPBS interview that he came to the museum in 1983 and even then it was clear that if the MCA, “wanted to serve San Diego and the greater area” their ability to expand the original La Jolla location was limited because of the neighbors and while they had already opened a downtown storefront location at Kettner and Broadway in the early nineties, they were outgrowing that space as well.[xxviii] The Railroad Archives was asked to leave the baggage building and the City Redevelopment Agency entered into an Exclusive Negotiation Agreement (ENA) with the MCASD On Feb. 26, 2001 for the occupancy of the Baggage Building.[xxix] As CCDC noted:


The 13,680 GSF Baggage Building is architecturally well suited for the Museum’s exhibition program … The 38-foot peaked ceilings, generous open spaces and high clerestory windows stretching the length of the building are ideal for the display of large-scale sculpture, site-specific installation art. The three large rooms beneath the main roof will remain, delineated by the existing masonry and hollow clay tile walls that originally defined an open passageway through the building: These spaces acknowledge the existing buildings structural grid in their layout and proportions.[xxx]



Catellus was required to complete the seismic retrofit and base building improvements by December 7, 2003 and hired Heritage Architecture in San Diego (the successor firm to ‘Milford Wayne Donaldson,’ who sold his firm when he took the position of California State Historic Preservation Officer). The principal and part-owner of Heritage, David Marshall, explained that it took roughly 1.5 years to complete this part of the process which included “strengthening the historic structure” (since the building’s shell was composed of unreinforced masonry), “cleaning and restoring the doors and windows”, and “removing lead paint and toxic asbestos.”[xxxi] Since many of the historic light fixtures, bronze wall sconces, and windows were missing or damaged beyond repair, Marshall estimated that the firm had to “replicate around twenty percent,” of these architectural elements and were fortunate to find “someone locally” who was able to effectively recreate them.[xxxii] While the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for rehabilitation indicate that “Deteriorated historic features shall be repaired rather than replaced …where the severity of deterioration requires replacement of a distinctive feature, the new feature shall match the old in design, color, texture, and other visual qualities and, where possible, materials … [as] substantiated by documentary, physical, or pictorial evidence,”[xxxiii]


Incidentally, one of the most controversial aspects of the rehabilitation process was that Marshall’s firm had “removed the red roof tiles during the retrofit and cleaned them before they were reinstalled.”[xxxiv] After the tiles went back on many people were outraged when they “thought that the roof had been replaced since the tiles were so much brighter than the tiles on the adjacent depot building.”[xxxv] Actually, the Santa Fe Station’s Register nomination of 1971 mentioned that the roof was, “originally red but now very dark from years of staining by smoke.”[xxxvi] Marshall explained that after the public recognized that the tiles were cleaned rather than replaced, the reaction was so positive that Catellus, who owns the adjacent Depot building, requested that Heritage Architecture remove and clean the tiles for that building. [xxxvii]


Design of the Exhibition and Administrative Gallery Spaces

Confident that the Baggage Building was an ideal space to display contemporary art, MCASD director Hugh Davies hired a well-known museum architect with experience designing in a historic context, Richard Gluckman to prepare and execute designs for the renovation of the Baggage Building to would meet the programmatic needs of the museum. [xxxviii] Additionally, Davis hired Wayne Donaldson, “a historic preservation expert who helped write California’s building code for historic structures, to create a strong and feasible plan for the MCASD,” that would comply with preservation guidelines set by the State and the Secretary of the Interior.” [xxxix]San Diego Union Tribune architecture critic, Ann Jarmusch noted that the strength of the architectural team derived from their shared opinion that, “less is more when renovating a historic building that’s in relatively unaltered condition, such as this one.”[xl] The program entailed that the historic, “13,000-square-foot” building will contain large-scale installations, a black-box area, and a small-scale exhibition space,” said principal Richard Gluckman in an interview in Architectural Record.[xli] “Its rooms,” Gluckman added, “will be highly flexible and will sit under lofty, 38-foot-high ceilings lit dramatically with clerestory windows.”[xlii] Also, in an effort to appease Amtrak who had been initially worried that the new museum use would impinge on its use of the Santa Fe Depot, both Amtrak and the MCA had, “… jointly hired architect Wayne Donaldson to devise ways to bridge their different needs for the depot.”[xliii] Amtrak was mainly concerned that it would retain necessary storage space and loading areas while Hugh Davis and Richard Gluckman were initially concerned that the noise from the trains would interfere with the contemplation of the artwork.[xliv]


While the Baggage Building was still considered to be a model space for the display of contemporary artwork, both the director of the museum and the head architect realized that they would need to house the administrative functions of the art museum in an adjacent building in an effort to limit the impact on the original architectural design of the historic structure. Richard Gluckman and Robert White of  “Gluckman Meyner Architects” in New York city, began to develop specific architectural designs for the MCASD that called for, “as little intrusion as possible into the building’s fabric and spaces,” which was consistent with the Secretary’s standards for rehabilitation, rather than altering the floor plan to include, “space-consuming offices, a conference room or art storage areas.”[xlv] In an effort to completely dedicate the historic building to the display of artwork, Gluckman “designed a spare three-story building that would adjoin the baggage building’s north end.”[xlvi]


Design Guidelines

The modern building was constructed to “echo, but never mimic, design elements, and proportions” of the historic Depot and Baggage Building.[xlvii] This was done intentionally since, as Davis observed, “The latest historic preservation guidelines from the Department of the Interior call for additions to historic buildings to be distinctly contrasting in style [and] discourage any attempt to do a sort of extrusion of the baggage building, or something in stucco and tile, Mission style.”[xlviii] The new building would use contemporary compatible materials such as corrugated metal siding “painted the dull red of freight cars and pierced by ribbed-glass or translucent windows [to] make a clear separation between the old event of the baggage building and this new event at this 21st century addition.” [xlix]“Gluckman,” said a San Diego reporter, was “careful as ever to respect worthy old buildings he’s engaged to adapt.”[l] Since the Baggage Building “masquerades as a thick-walled adobe structure,” Gluckman, “noted how the baggage building’s true steel structure is hidden from the street behind walls meant to evoke adobe [while] the steel is doing most of the work.”[li] In the new administrative addition he “inverted the old [building’s] structural system [and], inspired by steel-walled boxcars, reveals to all that structure and facade are one.” [lii] Gluckman envisioned a design that could be interpreted as bold and unabashedly modernist by the untrained eye, but Jarmusch indicated that, “Gluckman creatively used a modern architectural language and materials to create an addition that piques public interest while at the same time respecting the integrity of the historic baggage building and not overwhelming it.” [liii] Amtrak also had a stake in the design of the new addition and part of the arrangement was that Gluckman would “build a 20- foot high, 2,700-square-foot storage and maintenance facility for Amtrak.” [liv] The new addition would encompass the Amtrak storage unit and a “shared loading dock” that would also be used by the MCASD to “bring art into the building, and gallery space.”[lv]


Reception of the New

The addition of a new structure to occupy the north end of the baggage, required the removal of a contextually-historic building that was not a part of the original Santa Fe Station but was added in the 1930’s: the Railroad Express Agency (REA) building.  While supporters of the MCASD expansion accepted that the REA building was, “not listed on any historic register” and since it was “too small to meet the museum’s downtown expansion needs,” they argued it should simply be removed and replaced with a with a new, three-story building devoted to offices and support services.[lvi] The demolition of the REA was not the controversial preservation issue in the saga of the survival of the Santa Fe Station; rather, it was the modern, “cubist” design of the new addition that was championed by preservationists as an affront to the historic elegance of the historic baggage building.[lvii] While this sort of a historicist reaction to modern additions is a common in adaptive use, the majority of the criticism was directed at Gluckman’s design itself. Critics compared the adjoining museum administration building designed by Gluckman to “an oversized version of the monolith in Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey.”[lviii] However, the City and the CCDC Board eventually “fell into line for a six-to-nothing vote in favor of [approving the design for the addition on Oct. 16, 2002],” however; they still had a few members who “winced with displeasure over its design.”[lix]


While the second stage of the Santa Fe Station’s preservation process mainly focused on the contemporary addition for the Baggage Building that was proposed by the MCASD, it seemed to unnecessarily downplay the successful renovation of the historic building. The museum is perhaps an ideal use of the Baggage Building since it kept the exterior and interior’s integrity intact. The addition functions as a necessary “backstage area” to this remarkable historic setting that has come to take on a meaning that is satisfying from both the architectural historical standpoint, and the contemporary art aficionado. The clerestory windows of the Baggage Building filter the powerful San Diego daylight through the exhibit spaces and onto the surfaces of the art installations, producing an ethereal quality.

In rapidly developing areas such as San Diego, preservationists are eager to retain significant historic structures, but at the same time, as this case study has demonstrated, it can be difficult for preservation advocates to conceive of new uses for historic buildings and changes to adjacent and nearby structures. Contemporary additions allow historical buildings to accommodate new uses, but part of addressing the union of old and new, involves making value judgments and deciding how to heighten the qualities of a place in a way that is authentic, sensitive, and relevant to contemporary society.

© Kristina Nugent and Ephemeral Urbanity, [2013 – present]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kristina Nugent and EphemeralUrbanity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[i] Bruegmann, Robert. Historic American Buildings Survey: Santa Fe Railroad Station. Vol. HABS CAL, 37-SANDI, 22-., Summer 1975.

[ii] Luce, Barbara, et al. Entries in the National Register. California:, Jun 26 1972.

[iii] Conrad, Rebecca. “Once I Built a Railroad: Viewing History from the Depot Platfrom.” The Public Historian 14.2 (1992): 31-48.

[iv] Bevil, Alexander D. The Journal of San Diego History 45.4 (Fall 1999): 41-57.

[v] Price, James N. The Railroad Stations of San Diego County: Then and Now. San Diego: Price & Sieber, 1989. 7.

[vi] Baldridge, Charlene. ” Reviving an Old Station: New Museum Buildings near Santa Fe Depot in San Diego.” San Diego Union Tribune Jan 18 2007, sec. B: 1.

[vii] Price, James N. “The Railroad Stations of San Diego County: Then and Now.” The Journal of San Diego History 34.2 (1988): 43.

[viii] Brandes, Raymond. Application for Registration of Historical Landmark. Vol. 56. San Diego, California:, 1971.

[ix] Stephen Hess and Paul I. Meyer. “Santa Fe Depot: Repositioning an Urban Development Plan.” Urban Land 53.4 (1994): 62.

[x] Gleason, James F. City of San Diego Environmental Quality Department Project Application. File No.. 73-12-005C. San Diego, California:, Jan. 16 1974.

[xi] Ibid.

[xii] Gleason, James F. “Request to Provide Public Input and Background concerning the  Significance of the Historical Structure.” File No. 73-12-005C. Jan. 23 1974.

[xiii] Letter submitted as part of the “Request to Provide Public Input and Background concerning the  Significance of the Historical Structure.” File No. 73-12-005C. Jan. 1974 (Project approved by the Environmental Quality Department on Feb. 2, 1974).

[xiv] Schroeder, Beverly. “Solicitation of Letters of Interest for use of the Baggage Building at the Santa Fe Depot.” Centre City Development Corporation. June 2000.

[xv] Price, James N. “The Railroad Stations of San Diego County,” 38.

[xvi] Stephen Hess and Paul I. Meyer. “Santa Fe Depot,” 63.

[xvii] Ibid, 64.

[xviii] Bevil, Alexander D. The Journal of San Diego History 45.4 (Fall 1999): 41-57.

[xix] Gerdes, Marianne. Phone Interview. “San Diego Railroad Museum Archives.” Mar 4 2008.

[xx] Pincus, Robert L. “Baggage Building has Great Art Space,” E.3.

[xxi] “Excerpt from the Second Amendment to the Development Agreement between the City of San Diego and Catellus Development Corporation.” June 27, 1997 (‘Attachment B’ in Schroeder, Beverly. “Solicitation of Letters of Interest for use of the Baggage Building at the Santa Fe Depot.” Centre City Development Corporation. June 2000).

[xxii] Ibid.

[xxiii] Hamilton, Pamela M. “Public Hearing of the City Council on the Proposed Fourth Amendment to the Development Agreement with Catellus Operating Limited Partnership …” Report No. CCDC 04-23; 0413. June 23, 2004.

[xxiv] Davies, Hugh M. “The MCA Baggage Building: A New Contemporary Art Space in Downtown San Diego.” March 28, 2000 (‘Attachment C’ in Schroeder, Beverly. “Solicitation of Letters of Interest for use of the Baggage Building at the Santa Fe Depot.” Centre City Development Corporation. June 2000).

[xxv] Pincus, Robert L. “Baggage Building has Great Art Space.” San Diego Union Tribune Jan 15 2001, sec. E: 3.

[xxvi] Ibid.

[xxvii] Ibid.

[xxviii] Richard Gluckman, Hugh Davies. Museum of Contemporary Art Expands Downtown Location., 2007. Feb 12 2007  <>.

[xxix] Herring, Bruce. “Transfer of the Baggage Building and REA Site at the Santa Fe Depot by Catellus Development Corporation to the City of San Diego and the City’s Lease of the Premises to the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art.” City of San Diego Manager Report No. 02-294. Dec 5 2002.

[xxx] Ibid.

[xxxi] Marshall, David. Interview. “Santa Fe Baggage Building.” Feb 20, 2008.

[xxxii] Ibid.

[xxxiii]“The removal of historic materials or alteration of features and spaces that characterize a property shall be avoided.”

“The Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for Rehabilitation” <;

[xxxiv] Ibid.

[xxxv] Ibid.

[xxxvi] Luce, Barbara, et al. Entries in the National Register. California:, Jun 26 1972.

[xxxvii] Marshall, David. Interview. “Santa Fe Baggage Building.”

[xxxviii] Jarmusch, Ann. “Baggage Claim: Museum’s Proposal would Rejuvenate Santa Fe Depot Annex.” San Diego Union Tribune Dec 16 2001, sec. I: 1.

[xxxix] Ibid.

[xl] Ibid.

[xli] Lubell, Sam. “San Diego Railway Baggage Building to Become new Galleries.” Architectural Record 192:10 (2004): 46.

[xlii] Ibid.

[xliii] Millican, Anthony. “Art Museum Wins Out Over Rail Buffs: Both Sought Space at Santa Fe Depot.” San Diego Union Tribune Jan 24 2001, sec. B: 2.

[xliv] Richard Gluckman, Hugh Davies. Museum of Contemporary Art Expands Downtown Location., 2007. Feb 12 2007


[xlv] Jarmusch, Ann. “Baggage Claim: Museum’s Proposal…”

[xlvi] Ibid.

[xlvii] Ibid.

[xlviii] Davies, Hugh M., Director. Museum of Contemporary Art. “Preservation Or Desecration?” San Diego Union Tribune Oct 20 2002, sec. G: 6.

[xlix] Millican, Anthony. “Art Museum Wins Out Over Rail Buffs.”

[l] Jarmusch, Ann. “Art Museum’s Expansion Plan…”

[li] Ibid.

[lii] Ibid.

[liii] Jarmusch, Ann. Email Conversation. “Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.” March 16, 2008.

[liv] Davies, Hugh M., Director. Museum of Contemporary Art. “Preservation Or Desecration?”

[lv] Ibid.

[lvi] Jarmusch, Ann. “Art Museum’s Expansion Plan is a Gem.” San Diego Union Tribune  Dec 1 2002, sec. I: 1.

[lvii] Marshall, David. Interview.

[lviii] Potter, Matt. ” A Slap in the Face of the Past.” San Diego Reader November 21, 2002.

[lix] Potter, Matt. ” A Slap in the Face of the Past.”

Addition to the Villa Metzler: Richard Meier’s Kuntshandwerk, Frankfurt, Germany

by Kristina Nugent

Fom the most classical structures to the most avant guarde, architecture is arguably the most recognizable symbol of human civilization. When architecture meets art, this union poses an even more challenging, but potentially even more powerful cause for celebrating humanity. As Ada Louise Huxtable wrote, “The connection between container and contents has been an uneasy, ambivalent, consistently controversial, and passionately debated subject … The ambience provided by the setting can diminish the art or raise the viewer’s responses to an exalted level. The relationship is the secret of a great museum.”

In the upcoming three posts, I will investigate the “alternate narratives” embodied within three very different examples of additions to historic museum buildings. By calling these “alternate narratives” I am attempting to engage both the historic building, the addition, and the contents of the museum collection in a dialogue. Then, my goal is to critically evaluate the combination on the basis of whether the sum of the two buildings has produced a meaning, carried through the contents of the collection, that is even greater than that of the original parts.

Linking historic buildings to contemporary additions may suggest a fundamental disconnect between the time and age of historic and contemporary design. However, adopting what could loosely be defined as a post-structuralist argument, the unity of old and new can produce something new indeed:  a manifesto that can be read as both a statement on the agility of architecture to embrace a new impulse, and also one that effectively grounds itself within the complexities of interpretation and reception within a sociological and environmental context.

Addition to the Villa Metzler: Richard Meier’s Kuntshandwerk


Frankfurt and the Museumsufer Initiative

The history of the development and planning for a new cultural area within the City of Frankfurt was spearheaded in the mid-1970s by the local Frankfurt architect Till Behrens (grandson of the famous German architect Peter Behrens), who advocated for the creation of the Museumsufer, or “riverside museum promenade” on the south bank of the Main River between the Eiserner Steg and Holbeinsteg bridges. Behrens, who received wide popular support for his cultural initiative, was successful in convincing Frankfurt city officials of the wisdom of his proposal and in securing the necessary initial funding. Behrens’s proposal drew from an understanding of the existing landscape of the proposed Museumsufer site.


This section of the river Main included a number of 18th Century patrician villas, accompanied by a designed, park-like landscape. Most of the landscape along the river had been spared from World War Two bombings, unlike other parts of the city of Frankfurt, and had come to be regarded by many residents as a cherished historic resource to be preserved.[i] The vision of the Museumsufer initiative embraced the dual purpose of “Helping to preserve a part of the city that was facing demolition, in that old buildings have been converted to new uses,” and on the other, that the initiative would become the “figurehead of a new public consciousness.”[ii] In the 1980s and 1990s, the initiative was partially realized with the creation of thirteen new museums adjacent to the River Main. Of the thirteen buildings constructed during this time, some of the museums were entirely new purpose-built structures, but most interesting, were the various devices used by the architects to link new museums programs and accompanying structures to the historic villas.


The Villa Metzler

Of all of the historic villas located on the River Main, the Neo-classical-style Villa Metzler was considered to be the oldest and most venerable. By the 1970s, the Villa had already been converted into a museum for decorative arts.[iii] It was accepted that the Villa Metzler, which had been originally designed as a private residence was, “…naturally not at all suited to the needs of [showcasing a decorative arts] collection.”[iv] Also, the gradual expansion of the museum’s collection, which was gaining a reputation as “one of the most important specialist collections in Germany,” was too large to continue to be housed inside of the historic building.


The Competition

The City of Frankfurt sponsored an international architectural competition for the design of an expansion of the Kuntshandwerk since they recognized that an expansion was necessary in order to provide for the public display of the ever-growing collection of decorative art objects ranging from stemware to furniture. The design competition guidelines stated, “The still intact park landscape should be preserved; and it was around the Villa Metzler that the whole concept was to revolve.”[v]

This moment in architectural history, as it is retrospectively understood, coincided with the transition away from the International Style typified by Mies and CIAM. The masters of modern design were being challenged by the spread of a new architectural paradigm that originated with Aldo Rossi’s publishing of the pivotal theoretical text, The Architecture of the City in 1982. Not surprisingly, the top entries were those which embraced the new architectural philosophies, specifically the designs submitted by the so-called “Post-Modernists,” a term coined by Charles Jenks, which included work that originated in the work of the “New York Five,” which eventually became divided between the “Grays,” defined by the work of Robert Venturi, and the “Whites,” who included Peter Eisenman and Richard Meier. Meier, specifically, was influenced by the historical work and philosophy of Le Corbusier, but at the same time he departed from the modern master’s designs in the sense that Meier was engaged in other discourses and “moves an old vocabulary, redefined by a new vision, into new explorations of spatial geometry.”[vi] The judges recognized and could appreciate Venturi’s design that embraced “Complexity and Contradiction,” ultimately, the winner was announced in 1979: Richard Meier.


Meier’s Proposal

There are several reasons why Meier’s work resonated with the programmatic and aesthetic agenda of the Board of Directors of the Kuntshandwerk. His design seemed to weave both the historic context of the Villa Metzler and more forward-looking aspirations underlying the Museumsufer initiative. The success of Meier’s design for the Kuntshandwerk addition was later analyzed Kenneth Frampton, who observed that, “Altogether, Meier was to engage in a more brilliant and subtle contextual game than his competitors, immediately exploiting the existing urban fabric and the history of the site for all its worth, while still implanting a rigorously abstract architecture on the four corners of the available territory.”[vii] Specifically, Meier’s design did not just acknowledge the historic presence of the Villa Metzler but left the building, and with it its historical meaning, intact by retaining it as a freestanding entity that was not physically integrated into the new design.


Meier proportionally integrated the dimensions of the historic building, a 17.6-meter cube, as the proportions he used to scale his design for the new museum building.[viii] This was partially an effort to moderate the difference in height and bulk between the residential-scale villa and necessarily larger new museum building. While the proportions of the addition undeniably reinforced the importance of the Villa, the design of the addition came to encapsulate the stylistic preferences and devices of Meier since using a square grid, as the origin of an architectural design happened to be Meier’s modus operandi. However, the sensitivity demonstrated by Meier’s decision to scale the addition and articulate its movement vectors counterclockwise through the sequence of individual rooms was laudable. Views of the Metzler Villa and its surrounding landscape are seen from every room of new gallery. One author noted that, “A variety of features links the interior with the exterior, integrating the ensemble of buildings quite organically into the park, which, with its system of paths, gate designs, and fountain is like a continuation of the museum in the urban space. Inside, a series of ramps conducts the visitor informally around.”[ix] The entry function employed by Meier was important preserving the jewel-like integrity of the villa within the larger composition. The main entry to the museum is through the addition, and the visitor is led through the gallery spaces, up to the second floor and across a bridge that leads into the Villa, which holds the Rococo and Neoclassical art collection. By creating this procession, Meier does more than symbolically integrate the two buildings; he physically connects them to establish an even greater experience. The visitor is quite deliberately led to observe the villa along the journey through the new museum, and only after that does he enter into the historic building, which by that point, functions as the culmination of the passage through the collection.


Evaluation of Meier’s Design

Criticism of Meier’s new building has centered on its “gleaming white galleries,” and some visitors claimed that, “The museum’s collection of traditional German furniture and household objects (walnut wardrobes, stoneware jugs, and the like) is diminished by the perfectionist, clinical setting, and looks dingy.”[x] Whiteness of spaces was thought by Meier to enhance the delicacy of the decorative arts objects, and was inspired by Chinese porcelain, which is a device that he has employs in his greater repertoire of museum buildings with much éclat. What possibly explains Meier’s confidence in his interior gallery spaces is that, “Unlike most other architects, Meier has long harbored aspirations to being a painter, sculptor, and collagist, occasionally exhibiting his works. Like many of his co-professionals, Meier apparently does not want works of art to give his buildings undue competition.”[xi]


When he was designing the Getty Center in Los Angeles, the trustees insisted that the pre-selected interior designer design the interiors for the Getty’s furniture and tapestry collection. After designing this museum in Frankfurt, Meier presumed himself to be knowledgeable on the display of decorative arts objects. However, the Getty trustees did not share Meier’s perception of this own talent and requested that he limit his input to the design of the envelopes. Yet, even in that case as Ada Louise Huxtable noted, “Richard Meier’s usual all-white façades were rejected by museum authorities with conservative taste, which were reacting to strong community concerns about the suitability of white for the exposed hilltop and the intense California light. The pristine, high-modernist buildings of beige travertine and off-white porcelain enamel have been called conventional and predictable by those who would have preferred to see the foundation’s considerable resources devoted to a more daring or experimental approach.”[xii] If a criticism were to be made of the use of white in the Frankfurt museum, the visual effect of Meier’s exterior has been altered as a result of aging and dirt. Considering the geographical location of Frankfurt, there is not a large enough overhang to protect the vertical surfaces of the museum building. While the surfaces of the museum have acquired a different appearance over time, the massing and treatment of Meier’s addition and its relationship to the Villa remain in the way that had been intended by the architect.


As Huxtable so poignantly wrote on this topic, “The art museum goes beyond the preoccupation with material things. It is dedicated not only to collecting and preserving, but also to the search for meaning that has always been among civilization’s highest achievements. This has produced a unique building type today, based on an unprecedented kind of collaboration between artists and architects. At its most successful, it is a new art form.”[xiii]Together, the presence of history and the addition of the new building create in a synthesis of the old and new to produce a culture and artistic achievement in its own right. Much of Meier’s success in this example can be attributed, in part, as Frampton points out, in the larger agenda of postmodernism, articulated in Rossi’s book, which entailed both an acceptance of historical precedent and context, and also an attempt to enhance meaning and experience.

© Kristina Nugent and Ephemeral Urbanity, [2013 – present]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kristina Nugent and EphemeralUrbanity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


[i] Robson, Ian. Museumsarchitektur in Frankfurt 1980-1990. (Munich : Prestel, c1990) 13.

[ii] Ibid.

[iii] Robson, Ian. Museumsarchitektur, 15-16.

[iv] Ibid, 15.

[v] Ibid, 16.

[vi] Huxtable, Ada Louise. “Museums: Making It New,” 9.

[vii] Frampton, Kenneth in Robson, Ian. Museumsarchitektur, 20.

[viii] Meier, Richard and Lisa J. Green. Richard Meier. (Cambridge: St. Martin’s Press, 1990) 44.

[ix] Robson, Ian. Museumsarchitektur, 16.

[x] Reesa Greenberg, Bruce W. Ferguson, Sandy Nairne. Thinking about Exhibitions. (New York: Routledge, 1996) 347.

[xi] Huxtable, Ada Louise. “Museums: Making It New,” New York Review of Books, V.46, no.7, April 22, 1999, p. 9.

[xii] Ibid.

[xiii] Ibid, 11.

Applying the New York City Landmarks Law: St. John’s Parish Church (1829-1917)


by Kristina Nugent

By the early Twentieth Century, New York City was indeed America’s most populous and rapidly growing city. It was not long before undeveloped land became scarce and the cycle of demolition and renewal began to transform New York from an early industrial city to the metropolitan “Gotham” of the present time. Local preservation efforts justifiably had an early start. The effort to save St. John’s Church in lower Manhattan from imminent demolition during the first decade of the 1900s demonstrated that ample support for historic preservation existed in order to achieve a variety of individual agendas. Rarely was the impetus for the earliest preservation efforts simply a knee-jerk reaction to the changing times. Especially in the case of St. John’s, the preservation campaign surrounding the church received broad support from both individual New York citizens, such as the collector and progressive reformer I.N. Phelps Stokes, to government officials that included President Roosevelt, Secretary of State Root and George B. McClellan, the New York Mayor at that time. Other advocates for the preservation of St. John’s included the Reform and Tammany mayors, architects Charles Follen McKim and George Post, Metropolitan Museum of Art president Robert W. De Forest, and J.P. Morgan.[1] There were several other instances in which this kind of ardent public support for preservation had been sufficient in ensuring the survival of many of New York’s beloved historical buildings to despite more lucrative development proposals. The losses that occurred in the twentieth century, for the most part, did not result from an apathetic citizenry, or a lack of political leverage, but rather from the absence of binding regulations to prevent demolition by private landowners.


St. John’s was a notable failure in the early history of the preservation movement in New York City. The ultimate demolition of St. John’s Parish Church typified the shortcomings of early advocacy-based preservation efforts of concerned New Yorkers. Had the New York City Landmarks Law been in effect in 1908 when the impassioned advocacy effort surrounding St. John’s Church occurred, would the church have been saved? This paper will first discuss the protections offered by the New York Landmarks Law, which Tony Wood has called “the best landmarks law in the country.”[2] Whether this statement is true or not, will not be the focus of this paper. For the purposes of this investigation, the assumption will be that the landmarks law is as good as it can be, but that it is insufficient when not accompanied by public and political support for the landmark designation process. I will argue that a favorable social and political context, in addition to legal mechanisms for listing and saving buildings, is a crucial part of the landmarks designation process. As will be demonstrated, the benefits of legal protection for historic landmarks can not be initially secured, or later upheld by the courts, if there is not adequate public and political support for historic preservation.

The arguments in this paper were inspired by Wood’s mini-epiphany during a Preservation Vision speech during the most recent National Trust Conference in 2008 that: “Preservation happens both in space, that is in particular places AND it also happens in a particular moment in time. What a shocker that the act of preserving history actually happens in a historical context of its own and is shaped by the events of that time.”[3] From observing the historical moment in which the campaign to save St. John’s was underway, and the protections offered by the later Landmarks Law and establishment of the Landmarks Preservation Commission, this paper will additionally attempt to answer the question posed by Wood, (which was referred to earlier): “Despite having the best landmarks law in the country, why do we keep losing buildings and historic neighborhoods that we would rather have saved?”[4] Perhaps reflecting on the Landmarks Law and how it could have been successfully used in a previous era, will help illuminate why this is the case.


With the passage of the New York Landmarks Law in 1965, finally there was a political mechanism in place to determine which of New York’s historic buildings merited binding legal protection from demolition. As Title 25, Chapter 3 of the New York Administrative Code Section § 25–301 stated, the purpose of the law was as follows:

The council finds that many improvements, as herein defined . . . have a special character or a special historical or aesthetic interest or value and many improvements representing the finest architectural products of distinct periods in the history of the city, have been uprooted, notwithstanding the feasibility of preserving and continuing the use of such improvements and landscape features, and without adequate consideration of the irreplaceable loss to the people of the city of the aesthetic, cultural and historic values represented by such improvements . . . .  It is the sense of the council that the standing of this city as a world wide tourist center and world capital of business, culture and government cannot be maintained or enhanced by disregarding the historical and architectural heritage of the city and by countenancing the destruction of such cultural assets.[5]


Reflecting back on the early years of the 20th century, would this statement have appropriately described the public and private interest in protecting St. John’s Parish Church from demolition? According to Max Page, in The Creative Destruction of Manhattan, the battle to prevent the demolition of the church represented: “One of the most intense and unsuccessful campaigns to save a building . . . [and as a result of the eventual defeat] revealed the broader possibilities for preservation and called for a ‘larger movement for economic responsibility for neighborhoods in the face of speculation.’”[6] The situation Page described seemed to be kind of circumstance that the Landmarks Law professed to prevent.


St. John’s Chapel was one of the many parish churches owned by the larger Trinity Church in Lower Manhattan. Page wrote that “the church was admired for its age and its architecture for ‘antiquarian reasons.’”[7] St. John’s Church superficially represented “a preservation battle of the simplest, most elitist kind,” according to Page, since the importance of the church was mostly based on its beauty, as well as the fact that it was designed by a well-known architect. But when scratching beneath the surface, Page came to realize that the “St. John’s Chapel crusade revealed not simply a repetition of preservation campaigns following the patriotic model of Mount Vernon or the Jumel Mansion. Rather, it [showed] that possibilities for a broader notion of historic preservation were ripe [and] even as some suggested that buildings might more properly be preserved for posterity by moving them elsewhere away from the furnace of private real estate development and public works, others were beginning to argue that the historic building’s power was imminently tied to its site and use.”[8]

There were several reasons why the Trinity “mother church” was eager to sell St. John’s church in 1908. The primary one was that Trinity hoped to generate a sizable profit from the sale of the property, which it could then use to fuel the church’s further expansion into the greater city, since during that time the bulk of Manhattan’s population was moving northward with the development and speculation around Central Park. The larger issue at stake with the demolition of St. John’s was that Trinity Church was making a sly attempt to rid itself of not only the St. John’s property to generate revenue for expansion, but a second motive was that the church was trying to ‘get out of the tenement housing business’ and hoped to allow the city to shut down its tenement housing under more stringent tenement housing laws. Preservation, in this instance, transcended the architectural beauty of St. John’s Church: “Critics were enraged that the church evaluated its policy toward the tenements and St, John’s according to economic calculations.”[9] Preservation advocates, such as I.N. Phelps Stokes, “had urged that St. John’s not be moved and that it continue to be used as a church. He produced statistics showing that while some wealthier parishioners may have been moving northward there was still a sizable real and potential population for the chapel to serve. Others insisted that although the church no longer served its religious function, it could at least be used as a public forum.”[10] According to Page:  “St. John’s parishioners and clergy organized a protest and brought their case to court, attempting to stop the closing order. “Bowing to the pressure . . . Trinity agreed not to destroy the church, at first. However, with the widening of Varick Street to make way for the dual subway system and more auto traffic, the Church was [again] slated for demolition.”[11]

During the progressive era, “preservation battles came increasingly under the leadership of a group of upper-class reformers, city builders, professionals and managers,” since often they were intertwined with other social and political issues of the time. The Landmarks Law that was later adopted, “. . . hereby declared as a matter of public policy that the protection, enhancement, perpetuation and use of improvements . . . of aesthetic interest of value is a public necessity and is required in the interest of the health, prosperity, safety, and welfare of the people.”[12] The “interest” in preservation based on the “health, prosperity, safety, and welfare clause,” was very much relevant in the case of the St. John’s Church, which surpassed mere issues of aesthetics. Yet, aesthetic distinction and historic significance were nevertheless central. Protection under the Landmarks Law was offered to “buildings properties or objects” that had “a special character or special historical or aesthetic interest or value as part of the development, heritage, or cultural characteristics of the city, state or nation (and aged at years or older).”[13] St. John’s chapel was considered one of the city’s masterpiece buildings since it was designed by John McComb Jr., one of the designers of the architecturally-beloved, though otherwise controversial City Hall building.[14]

Had the law existed during the first decade of the 1900’s, St. John’s church could have been nominated for consideration as a local landmark to the New York Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) by submitting a Request for Evaluation (RFE) form. Once the LPC Staff receive the RFE, the application sent on behalf of the historic church would have waited an indeterminate amount of time while the LPC Research Committee staff review the history of the nominated property in order to determine whether the proposed landmark meets the criteria for designation. The staff can either recommend that the RFE be formally reviewed by the LPC Commissioners, or retained on file with no further action. As a side note, since there is not a set timeline, this process can potentially take several years. For example, at present, the LPC has a backlog of RFE’s that were received as early as the 1970s. One such potential landmark, the Hubbard House in Gravesend, Brooklyn, was first proposed in the 1970s and designated in the fall of 2008.


Continuing with the example of St. John’s Church, the considerable support of Mayor McClellan at that time should have been sufficient for the Church to avoid excessive delays in the “landmarking” process. The Landmarks Law established that the Landmarks Preservation Commission would consist of eleven members (of specified backgrounds and professions) who are all appointed by the mayor for periods that range from one to three years, including one of the members who the mayor appoints as the chair of the commission (and a vice-chair).[15] The law also outlined that the commission “may employ technical experts and such other employees as may be required to perform its duties,” which further emphasizes the political connection between the LPC, the Commissioners, and the Mayor. Once the LPC research staff review the RFE and determine that it meets the LPC criteria for designation, they are responsible for formally recommending the RFE the Commission. Following receipt of the recommendation, the Commission then has an unlimited amount of time to review the staff’s recommendation report. The next step in the process is “Calendaring” a Public Hearing, which is an official process that happens, according to the Historic Districts Council: “Once the staff, the Chair, and perhaps a Committee of Commissioners have agreed that the district has potential for designation and that they want to go forward with its designation . . . [and the potential landmark is] officially placed on the calendar of items to be considered by the LPC [However, again] there is no deadline for the LPC to move forward on designating a [landmark] after it has been calendared [and therefore] there is sometimes a lengthy period of time before calendaring and the next step, the public hearing..”[16]

During the period after the proposed landmark is officially “calendared” the Commissioners and the LPC research staff could continue to gather information and together create a formal “Designation report” that will be used during the public hearing, whenever the public hearing happens to take place. Returning to the timeframe referred to in the previous paragraph, there continue to be potential landmarks that were “calendared” several decades ago, and public hearings have yet to be held. This is where the mayor and other political officials’ support for designating St. John’s church would have given the building a tremendous advantage over hundreds of other potential landmarks that have not make it beyond this step.


Returning again to the hypothetical example of St. John’s Church, assuming that a public “designation hearing” for the church was scheduled, which is mandated by the New York Landmarks Law, members of the general public, as well as LPC Commissioners would gather to discuss the merit of designating the potential landmark. Public Comments would be voiced either during the commission hearing, or submitted in paper. Typically this process would have begun with a presentation by the LPC Research Staff to demonstrate how the property meets the designation criteria of the landmarks law, then the commissioners would have been invited to present their own research or opinion, and following that, the hearing would have been open to members of the public. At the hypothetical St. John’s designation hearing, members of the congregation would have likely presented their case for preserving the church for its functional importance as a historic house of worship, while elite Manhattanites may have argued how the church represents one of the finest works of architecture in the city, as well as progressive housing advocates who would expose the insensitivity of Trinity Church and make a plea for housing reform. On the other side of the argument, Trinity Church would likely present its case for closing the parish, selling the property, and allowing for the church’s demolition. While the ultimate resolution of this case is unclear, the LPC could permissibly designate St. John’s Parish Church, even though its owner, Trinity Church, opposed its designation. The final determination would rest with the LPC Commissioners and Chair, who through the Landmarks Law are entrusted with voting to protect St. John’s Church. A majority of the Commission would have needed to vote in favor of designation in order for the landmarking process to continue, and following the public hearing would need to designate a “landmark site” for St. John’s church and indicate “the location and boundaries of such site.”[17] Additionally, following the public hearing the commission may “specify the nature of any construction, reconstruction, alteration or demolition of any landscape feature which may be performed on such scenic landmark without prior issuance of a report [as well as] amend any specification made pursuant to the provisions of this subdivision.

© Kristina Nugent and Ephemeral Urbanity, [2013 – present]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kristina Nugent and EphemeralUrbanity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

New York Landmarks Law (an excerpt):

e. Subject to the provisions of subdivisions g and h of this section, any designation or amendment of a designation made by the commission pursuant to the provisions of subdivisions a, b and c of this section shall be in full force and effect from and after the date of the adoption thereof by the commission.

f. Within ten days after making any such designation or amendment thereof, the commission shall file a copy of same with the council, the department of AA

Buildings, the city planning commission, the board of standards and appeals, the fire department and the department of health and mental hygiene.

g. (1) Within sixty days after such filing, the city planning commission shall (a) hold a public hearing on any such designation of a historic district and (b) shall submit to the council a report with respect to the relation of such designation, whether of a historic district or a landmark, interior landmark, scenic landmark, or landmark site, or amendment of such designation to the zoning resolution, projected public improvements and any plans for the development, growth, improvement or renewal of the area involved. The city planning commission shall include with any such report its recommendation, if any, for council action with respect to any such designation of a historic district.

(2) The council may modify or disapprove by majority vote any designation of the commission or amendment thereof within one hundred twenty days after a copy thereof is filed with the council provided that the city planning commission has submitted the report required by this subdivision or that sixty days have elapsed since the filing of the designation or amendment with the council. All votes of the council pursuant to this subdivision shall be filed by the council with the mayor and shall be final unless disapproved by the mayor within five days of such filing. Any such disapproval by the mayor shall be filed by the mayor with the council and shall be subject to override by a two-thirds vote of the council within ten days of such filing. If the council shall disapprove such designation or amendment, such designation or amendment shall continue in full force and effect until the time for disapproval by the mayor has expired; provided, however, that if the mayor disapproves such council disapproval, it shall continue in full force and effect unless the council overrides the mayor’s disapproval. If the council shall modify such designation or amendment, such designation or amendment as adopted by the commission shall continue in full force and effect until the time for disapproval by the mayor has expired, and after such time such modification shall be in effect; provided, however, that if the mayor disapproves such council modification, the designation or amendment as adopted by the commission shall continue in full force and effect unless the council overrides the mayor’s disapproval, and in the event of override the modification shall take effect on and after the date of such override.

h. (1) The commission shall have power, after a public hearing, to adopt a resolution proposing rescission, in whole or in part, of any designation or amendment or modification thereof mentioned in the preceding subdivisions of this section. Within ten days after adopting any such resolution, the commission shall file a copy thereof with the council and the city planning commission.

(2) Within sixty days after such filing, the city planning commission shall submit to the council a report with respect to the relation of such proposed rescission of any such designation, whether of a historic district or a landmark, interior landmark, scenic landmark or landmark site, or amendment or modification thereof, to the zoning resolution, projected public improvements and any plans for the development, growth, improvement, or renewal of the area involved.

(3) The council may approve, disapprove or modify such proposed rescission within one hundred twenty days after a copy of the resolution proposing same is filed with the council, provided that the city planning commission has submitted the report required by this subdivision or that sixty days have elapsed since the filing of such resolution. Failure to take action on such proposed rescission within such one hundred twenty-day period shall be deemed a vote to disapprove such proposed rescission. All votes of the council pursuant to this subdivision shall be filed by the council with the mayor and shall be final unless disapproved by the mayor within five days of such filing. Any such mayoral disapproval shall be filed by the mayor with the council and shall be subject to override by a two-thirds vote of the council within ten days of such filing. If such proposed rescission is approved or modified by the council, such rescission or modification thereof shall not take effect until the time for disapproval by the mayor has expired; provided, however, that if the mayor disapproves such rescission or modification, it shall not take effect unless the council overrides the mayor’s disapproval. If such proposed rescission is disapproved by the council, it shall not take effect unless the mayor disapproves such council disapproval and the council fails to override the mayor’s disapproval.

i. The commission may at any time make recommendations to the city planning commission with respect to amendments of the provisions of the zoning resolution applicable to improvements in historic districts.

j. All designations and supplemental designations of landmarks, landmark sites, interior landmarks, scenic landmarks and historic districts made pursuant to subdivision a shall be made pursuant to notices of public hearings given, as provided in section 25–313. In addition to such notice, the commission shall give notice to the city planning commission, all affected community boards and the office of the borough president in whose borough the property or district is located in advance of any public hearing relating to such designations.

k. Upon its designation of any improvement parcel as a landmark and of any landmark site, interior landmark, scenic landmark or historic district or any amendment of any such designation or rescission thereof, the commission shall cause to be recorded in the office of the register of the city of New York in the county in which such landmark, interior landmark, scenic landmark or district lies, or in the case of landmarks, interior landmarks, scenic landmarks and districts in the county of Richmond in the office of the clerk of said county of Richmond, a notice of such designation, amendment or rescission describing the party affected by, in the case of the county of Richmond, its land map block number or numbers, and its tax map, block and lot number or numbers, and in the case of all other counties, by its land map block and lot number or numbers.

“Desesignation report.” The report prepared by the commission and used as a basis for designating a landmark or historic district pursuant to this chapter.

§ 25–302 Definitions. As used in this chapter, the following terms shall mean and include:

a. “Alteration.” Any of the acts defined as an alteration by the building code of the city.

b. “Appropriate protective interest.” Any right or interest in or title to an improvement parcel or any part thereof, including, but not limited to, fee title and scenic or other easements, the acquisition of which by the city is determined by the commission to be necessary and appropriate for the effectuation of the purpose of this chapter.

c. “Capable of earning a reasonable return.” Having the capacity, under reasonably efficient and prudent management, of earning a reasonable return. For the purposes of this chapter, the net annual return, as defined in subparagraph (a) of paragraph three of subdivision v of this section, yielded by an improvement parcel during the test year, as defined in subparagraph (b) of such paragraph, shall be presumed to be the earning capacity of such improvement parcel, in the absence of substantial grounds for a contrary determination by the commission.

c-1. “Chair.” The chair of the landmarks preservation commis- sion.

d. “City-aided project.” Any physical betterment of real property, which:

(1) may not be constructed or effected without the approval of one or more officers or agencies of the city; and

(2) upon completion, will be owned in whole or in part by any person other than the city; and

(3) is planned to be constructed or effected, in whole or in part, with any form of aid furnished by the city (other than under this chapter), including, but not limited to, any loan, grant, subsidy or other mode of financial assistance, exercise of the city’s powers of eminent domain, contribution of city property, or the granting of tax exemption or tax abatement; and

(4) will involve the construction, reconstruction, alteration or demolition of any improvement in a historic district or of a landmark.

e. “Commission.” The landmarks preservation commission.

f. “Day.” Any day other than a Saturday, Sunday or legal holiday; provided, however, that for purposes of section 25-303 and subdivision d of section 25-317 of this chapter, the term “day” shall mean every day in the week.

g. “Exterior architectural feature.” The architectural style, design, general arrangement and components of all of the outer surfaces of an improvement, as distinguished from the interior surfaces enclosed by said exterior surfaces, including, but not limited to, the kind, color and texture of the building material

and the type and style of all windows, doors, lights, signs and other fixtures appurtenant to such improvement.

i. “Improvement.” Any building, structure, place, work of art or other object constituting a physical betterment of real property, or any part of such betterment.

j. “Improvement parcel.” The unit of real property which (1) includes a physical betterment constituting an improvement and the land embracing the site thereof, and (2) is treated as a single entity for the purpose of levying real estate taxes, provided however, that the term “improvement parcel” shall also include any unimproved area of land which is treated as a single entity for such tax purposes.

k. “Interior.” The visible surfaces of the interior of an improvement.

l. “Interior architectural feature.” The architectural style, design, general arrangement and components of an interior, including, but not limited to, the kind, color and texture of the building material and the type and style of all windows, doors, lights, signs and other fixtures appurtenant to such interior.

n. “Landmark.” Any improvement, any part of which is thirty years old or older, which has a special character or special historical or aesthetic interest or value as part of the development, heritage or cultural characteristics of the city, state or nation, and which has been designated as a landmark pursuant to the provisions of this chapter.

o. “Landmark site.” An improvement parcel or part thereof on which is situated a landmark and any abutting improvement parcel or part thereof used as and constituting part of the premises on which the landmark is situated, and

q. “Minor work.” Any change in, addition to or removal from the parts, elements or materials comprising an improvement, including, but not limited to, the exterior architectural features or interior architectural features thereof and, subject to and as prescribed by regulations of the commission if and when promulgated pursuant to section 25-319 of this chapter, the surfacing, resurfacing, painting, renovating, restoring or rehabilitating of the exterior architectural features or interior architectural features or the treating of the same in any manner that materially alters their appearance, where such change, addition or removal does not constitute ordinary repairs and maintenance and is of such nature that it may be lawfully effected without a permit from the department of buildings.

q-1. “Offense.” As used in the phrase “second and subsequent offense”, a violation encompassing some or all of the conditions or actions described or encompassed by a prior notice of violation or summons. For purposes of this definition, there shall be a presumption that the conditions encompassed by a second or subsequent offense have been in existence for each day between the time the respondent admits to liability or is found liable for or guilty of the prior offense and the time the second or subsequent notice of violation or summons is served.

r. “Ordinary repairs and maintenance.” Any:

(1) work done on any improvement; or

(2) replacement of any part of an improvement;

for which a permit issued by the department of buildings is not required by law, where the purpose and effect of such work or replacement is to correct any deterioration or decay of or damage to such improvement or any part thereof and to restore same, as nearly as may be practicable, to its condition prior to the occurrence of such deterioration, decay or damage.

s. “Owner.” Any person or persons having such right to, title to or interest in any improvement so as to be legally entitled, upon obtaining the required permits and approvals from the city agencies having jurisdiction over building construction, to perform with respect to such property any demolition, construction, reconstruction, alteration or other work as to which such person seeks the authorization or approval of the commission pursuant to section 25-309 of this chapter.

t. “Person in charge.” The person or persons possessed of the freehold of an improvement or improvement parcel or a lesser estate therein, a mortgagee or vendee in possession, assignee of rents, receiver, executor, trustee, lessee, agent or any other person directly or indirectly in control of an improvement or improvement parcel.

u. “Protected architectural feature.” Any exterior architectural feature of a landmark or any interior architectural feature of an interior landmark.

v. “Reasonable return.” (1) A net annual return of six per centum of the valuation of an improvement parcel.

(2) Such valuation shall be the current assessed valuation established by the city, which is in effect at the time of the filing of the request for a certificate of appropriateness; provided that:

(a) The commission may make a determination that the valuation of the improvement parcel is an amount different from such assessed valuation where there has been a reduction in the assessed valuation for the year next preceding the effective date of the current assessed valuation in effect at the time of the filing of such request; and

(b) The commission may make a determination that the value of the improvement parcel is an amount different from the assessed valuation where there has been a bona fide sale of such parcel within the period between March fifteenth, nineteen hundred fifty-eight, and the time of the filing of such request, as the result of a transaction at arm’s length, on normal financing terms, at a readily ascertainable price, and unaffected by special circumstances such as, but not limited to, a forced sale, exchange of property, package deal, wash sale or sale to a cooperative. In determining whether a sale was on normal financing terms, the commission shall give due consideration to the following factors:

(1) The ratio of the cash payment received by the seller to (a) the sales price of the improvement parcel and (b) the annual gross income from such parcel;

(2) The total amount of the outstanding mortgages which are liens against the improvement parcel (including purchase money mortgages) as compared with the assessed valuation of such parcel;

(3) The ratio of the sales price to the annual gross income of the improvement parcel, with consideration given, where the improvement is subject to residential rent control, to the total amount of rent adjustments previously granted, exclusive of rent adjustments because of changes in dwelling space, services, furniture, furnishings, or equipment, major capital improvements, or substantial rehabilitation;

(4) The presence of deferred amortization in purchase money mortgages, or the assignment of such mortgages at a discount;

(5) Any other facts and circumstances surrounding such sale which, in the judgment of the commission, may have a bearing upon the question of financing.

(6) For the purposes of this subdivision v:

(a) Net annual return shall be the amount by which the earned income yielded by the improvement parcel during a test year exceeds the operating expenses of such parcel during such year, excluding mortgage interest and amortization, and excluding allowances for obsolescence and reserves, but including an allowance for depreciation of two per centum of the assessed value of the improvement, exclusive of the land, or the amount shown for depreciation of the improvement in the latest required federal income tax return, whichever is lower; provided, however, that no allowance for depreciation of the improvement shall be included where the improvement has been fully depreciated for federal income tax purposes or on the books of the owner; and

(b) Test year shall be (1) the most recent full calendar year, or (2) the owner’s most recent fiscal year, or (3) any twelve consecutive months ending not more than ninety days prior to the filing (a) of the request for a certificate, or (b) of an application for a renewal of tax benefits pursuant to the provisions of section 25-309 of this chapter, as the case may be.

w. “Scenic landmark.” Any landscape feature or aggregate of landscape features, any part of which is thirty years old or older, which has or have a special character or special historical or aesthetic interest or value as part of the development, heritage or cultural characteristics of the city, state or nation and which has been designated a scenic landmark pursuant to the provisions of this chapter.

x. As used in section 25–317.1:

(1) “Type A violation.” Except as otherwise defined by the rules of the commission, the following work done or condition created or maintained in violation of this chapter without an appropriate approval from the commission:

(a) the removal of or alterations to, except for painting, a significant portion of an exterior architectural feature, including, without limitation thereof, removal of or alterations to:

(i) the windows on a single facade or, where original, historic or special windows exist, the removal of or alterations to a significant portion of such original, historic or special windows on a single facade;

(ii) a decorative element made of metal, glass, wood, brick, ceramic and/or stone including, without limitation thereof, a cornice, lintel, grille or molding;

(iii) the paving stones or curbstones of a stone sidewalk;

(iv) an exterior doorway or stoop;

(v) a wall, fence, railing, porch, balcony or roof, including dormers, bays, gables and parapets; and

(vi) a storefront, but not including the installation of signs, awnings, flagpoles or banners;

(b) the removal of or alterations to a significant portion of a protected feature of an interior landmark as described in the designation report;

(c) the construction of all or a portion of a new building, structure, addition or any other improvement on a landmark site or within the boundaries of a historic district. Without limiting the generality of the foregoing, any significant modification of the existing bulk or envelope of a building shall be a violation under this paragraph;

(d) the elimination by paving or other construction of a significant portion of an area-way, planting area, or front, rear or side yards, where such feature is a significant component of the landmark or historic district;

(e) where the improvement is not a building or an interior landmark, the removal of or alterations to a significant portion of such improvement;

(f) the failure to submit to the commission any periodic inspection report required under the terms of a restrictive declaration recorded in connection with any zoning permit, certification or authorization granted to an improvement under the jurisdiction of the commission.

(2) “Type B violation”. Except as otherwise defined by the rules of the commission, the failure to maintain an improvement in a condition of good repair in violation of section 25-311 of this chapter, and where such condition results or may result in significant deterioration of either a significant portion of the improvement or a character-defining, protected, architectural feature of such improvement.

(a) For purposes of this subdivision, and without limiting the scope thereof, the term “significant deterioration” shall include the failure to maintain:

(i) the improvement in a structurally sound or reasonably water-tight condition; or

(ii) a character-defining, protected, architectural feature in a structurally sound or reasonably water-tight condition or otherwise failing to preserve the integral historic material of such feature.

(b) For purposes of this subdivision, the term “significant deterioration” shall not include:

(i) any condition that may permit some water penetration and/or evidence slight structural deterioration, unless such condition has existed over a period of time such that it has led or may reasonably lead to significant water penetration or structural damage to a significant part of a facade or roof; or

(ii) the failure to maintain a small part of a single, character-defining, protected, architectural feature or a small portion of the decorative, architectural features of the improvement taken as a whole.

(3) “Type C violation”. All other violations of this chapter, except for violations of section 25-311 of this chapter.

[1] Page, Max. The Creative Destruction of Manhattan. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), p.145.

[2] Wood, Tony. Remarks delivered at the National Trust for Historic Preservation annual conference

October 2008. Preservation Vision: NYC by Anthony Wood and Kirstin Sechler, p.2.

[3] Wood, Tony. Remarks delivered at the National Trust for Historic Preservation annual conference

October 2008. Preservation Vision: NYC by Anthony Wood and Kirstin Sechler, p.2.

[4] Ibid.

[5] New York City Charter §3020, New York Administrative Code Section 25-301, Title 25, Chapter 3: Landmarks preservation and Historic Districts, Modified Jan. 10, 2000.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Page, Max. The Creative Destruction of Manhattan. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), p.145.

[8] Page, Max. The Creative Destruction of Manhattan. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), p.145.

[9] Page, Max. The Creative Destruction of Manhattan. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press), p.145.

[10] Page, Max. The Creative Destruction of Manhattan, p.147.

[11] Ibid, 149.

[12] Ibid.

[13] New York City Charter §3020, New York Administrative Code Section 25-301, Title 25, Chapter 3: Landmarks preservation and Historic Districts, Modified Jan. 10, 2000.

[14] Ibid.

[15] New York City Charter §3020, New York Administrative Code Section 25-301, Title 25, Chapter 3: Landmarks preservation and Historic Districts, Modified Jan. 10, 2000.

[16] Historic Districts Council. PRESERVING YOUR HISTORIC NEIGHBORHOOD: New York City Designation Process. Online: <;. Accessed May 2, 2009.

[17] New York City Charter §3020, New York Administrative Code Section 25-301, Title 25, Chapter 3: Landmarks preservation and Historic Districts, Modified Jan. 10, 2000.

Rockefeller University Modern Campus Landscape: Daniel Kiley, 1958

by Kristina Nugent

In the early 1950s, the trustees of the Rockefeller Institute aimed to transform their formerly small, private medical research institute into the premier medical University campus in the nation. The first President was named in 1953, Detlev Bronk, who recognized that in addition to recruiting top faculty and students, the University campus itself needed to be envisioned as “a sanctuary. . . as a counterpoint to the starkness and tumult of the city; and provide a refuge where one is aware of nature’s rhythms, so that there will be a flourishing spirit and imagination.”[1] As University President, Bronk argued that, “Science should be recognized for the beauty of its spiritual undertaking. I believe that science benefits from being carried on in a lovely setting.” [2]

From the very beginning, Bronk lead the search for a team of architects to design the new campus and ultimately chose the architect Wallace K. Harrison to design the new buildings, and Harrison then suggested Daniel Kiley to lay out the grounds to further enhance the new buildings and overall campus setting. 3 Initially, Kiley refused the commission to work on the new University in New York City, claiming that he was already involved in several major projects at the time including the Dulles Airport in D.C., Independence Mall and the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. According to Rockefeller University’s horticultural consultant Lulu Leibel, “Kiley met with Bronk for only 15 minutes to tell him no, but there was in immediate rapport between the two men. The meeting went from fifteen minutes to five and a half hours,” and by the end of the meeting, Kiley was so impressed with Bronk’s energy and vision that he reconsidered his initial stance and enthusiastically accepted the commission.[4]


The site is almost never a big, blank slate waiting for your creative genius; it is a set of conditions and problems for which one seeks the highest solution. I always start from a functional base – Kiley, 2000.[5]

Initial Site Study

Starting in 1958, Kiley began his initial site investigation of the grounds that were to become the Rockefeller University campus. Kiley’s design process, in his own words, “[Began] with the site itself. . . [I took in] in all of its attributes with an open mind.”6 He was confronted with the Beaux-Arts layout of the research campus which was completed ten years after the Rockefeller Institute’s inception in 1905 when, “Institute researchers moved from rented laboratory space on 50th and Lexington into the just-completed Founder’s Hall, situated on 13 acres of East River bluff between 64th and 68th Streets, the only open tract left in a neighborhood of tenements and breweries.”7 The original campus landscape included two linden trees that were planted outside of Founder’s Hall in 1905, two elms about which Olmsted Brothers was consulted were planted in 1908, and at least four rows of London plane trees, including those along the main entry, were planted between 1910 and 1915. Early campus photographs show a tree line west of the buildings; this was the eastern edge of a tree-line frame for the rest of the property.[8]

Considering the site in its existing condition, Kiley adapted the original plan and decided to leave many of the major axial elements intact and add new transitional elements that would bridge the historical with the modernist buildings that Harrison was designing. In Kiley’s own words, “When I go onto a site, often I have an immediate understanding of, and reaction to it. It speaks to me right away. Once [I saw] the physical aspects, the second consideration is the programme. How will the land be used? When? By whom? The programme is an outgrowth of the third, all-important ingredient in the design process: the client.”[9]

Bronk called upon Kiley to experiment, “with the translation of various classic elements into a modern spatial sensibility,” that would complement the nature of the scientific research conducted on-site, as well as provides a setting for a new community of graduate scholars.10 Kiley also looked to the architectural work of Harrison, who acknowledged that the historic campus plan and the few buildings that occupied the land closest to the river provided him with just enough land to create, “a little city planning out of nothing.”11 Harrison’s designs reflected the traditional spatial arrangement of the campus by retaining the central axis that leads upward through the campus gate on York Avenue to Founders Hall, and forms the climax of the spatial arrangement upon which the other campus buildings are symmetrically positioned to the north and south.12 This axial design element, while essential to Harrison’s arrangement of the new campus buildings, became the primary organizational scheme for the Kiley’s campus landscape. Kiley’s aim was to design a landscape to weave the old and new elements of the Rockefeller Campus together, and he accomplished this by drawing from Classical landscape orders: the alleé, the path, the bosque, and the lawn, but by applying them in a decidedly modern way.[13] He articulated the campus spatially by working from the existing row of mature London plane trees, “over 80 feet tall, 50 to more than 100 years old,” along the northern end of the central axis and planted new trees to form three additional alleés, one that reached northward, and two that reached south along the upper and lower portions of the campus, respectively.[14]


... I tend to call out the axis with lines of trees, blocks of planting or special paving. Sometimes connection is about linking two similar elements, at other times it requires integration of heterogeneous components … the creation of a lucid transition between the outer contextual shell and the inner realm brings attention to the nature of the design itself –Kiley, 2000.[15]


Classical landscapes, such as those surrounding the Estates of Versailles and Vaux-le-Vicomte were Kiley’s inspiration for creating axes framed by trees that reach infinitely into the distance, by means of a relatively simple, sweeping spatial gesture.[16] In Kiley’s own words, referring to Le Nôtre’s Parc du Sceaux: “The great beauty of it was the fact that it was so simple, just a canal of water, double rows of Lombardy pines.”[17] The axes of Rockefeller University function in a similar way to draw the buildings and pathways into a grand expression of space that promotes an efficient circulation system, but one that transcends the mundane act of walking from one building to another on the campus into a powerful, sensory experience.


Orderly rows of trees function to shelter, border, and establish spatial intervals within the campus landscape. The trees are organized to frame pathways and axes but also serve to create a physical boundary between the city and the campus. The use of rows of trees was Kiley’s primary design strategy for the University, and he intended for them to, “. . . anchor the landscape structure and act both as a wall – a vertical plane that gives volume – and a meting out of the site rhythm with the repetition of individual trunks.”18 While the lines of trees and rows of hedges give the impression of order and proportion, Kiley was less rigid in his application of a perfect geometry. As one landscape architectural historian noted, “Kiley’s north-south alleés suggest symmetry, but that symmetry is by design hardly ever perfect, and he rarely centers anything. The distance of the tree lines to walk edges varies. Both sides of the gravel-lined walk may be curbed with thin granite, but the green on one side is provided by grass, on the other by ivy; or one side is grass and the other a clipped hedge or a mix of ericaceous species. This ‘asymmetric symmetry,’ and a restrained palette of materials that might be considered both classical and modern help structure what Kiley called continuity.”[19]

With this more lenient application of measured geometrical planting, the University campus appears formal, but more inviting and adaptable to changes over time. However, as another landscape architect observed, “The different dimensions and what they do and how they affect, when you pick trees and place them so many feet on center, this is very important, whether they’re ten feet, twelve feet, fifteen feet or eighteen feet on center. Just like the windows in the Palazzo Farnese. Those things are what make it wonderful or not, the spatial proportion.”[20] It is perhaps due to the inherent flexibility of the underlying classically-proportioned arrangement of the vegetation that allowed even the most formally geometrical design elements of Kiley’s landscape to, along with careful maintenance, retain its form even as the plants are growing and changing over time. One example is how when the line of cryptomeria Kiley planted on the upper level’s east side failed, “he replaced them with London planes – tree for tree – resulting in spacing 17 of 20 feet on center, close even by his famously tight standards. Thus today, while spacing within each London plane row is fairly consistent, it curiously ranges from 17 to 35 feet depending on the row.”[21]

Paths and Paving

In some of the most interesting places on the campus, the axes and paths interweave to provide directional indicators as well as visual inspiration. The pathways of Rockefeller University are predominately constructed using a “four-foot-wide marble-slab walk on a bed of marble chips.”22 The spatial sequence is delineated through the materials themselves: marble slabs that lie gently on the crushed stone provide a feeling of floating above the surface of the ground while visitors make their way down the path. Further strengthening the sense of movement and circulation along the pathways, is the relationship of the paving to the vegetative edging materials. Kiley bordered the pathways “by lines of trees, hedges, and stone walks that converge upon the central lawn.”23The sequence of progression along the paths is further guided by the repetition of plant materials that establish a sense of movement that parallels the experience of traveling by foot through the space.


Orthogonal Geometries: Lawns

Kiley’s use of precise rectangles of lawn and ivy is one of his most overtly modernist gestures within the campus landscape. Whereas traditional campus lawns stretch organically across the terrain, the grass lawns of Rockefeller University are deliberately shaped, orthogonally contained, and edged with stone. The lawns act as a controlled form of open space that mediates between the strong vertical – and horizontal -directionality of the trees when they are applied in combination with the allees and pathways that reach towards the horizon. In his words, “long grassy lawns, of ivy and vinca, of low hedges of cotoneaster and yew, of ericaceous beds augmented with viburnum, spirea, or cherry laurel – making terraces so flowing, tranquil and expansive that one can forget the site’s topography.”

Topographical Considerations

The topography becomes most evident during the procession up and through the central axis approaching Founder’s Hall. The abrupt grade change between the two campus levels was more efficiently addressed with stairs and “. . . steeply angled cuts instead of gentle slopes that would require more square footage.”[24] This solution allowed the courtyards and walkways of the upper level to maintain a central mall of lawn bordered by trees, whereas on the lower level, the topographical variations are addressed more frequently such as in the wandering pathway around Caspary auditorium. The topographical changes are frequently used to juxtapose the vegetation; the height of the rows of trees that stretch linearly across the site and the berms that occupy the eastern gradient of planted vegetation, creates a visual corridor that reinforces a sense of continuity within the upper portion of the campus landscape.

Satellite Areas

Outdoor rooms evolved according to specific conditions … Inspired by the peristyles of Oxford and the tactility of the gardens within Asian compounds to reinforce the idea of an urban oasis, and as in ancient walled gardens founded upon the notion of paradise on earth, to provide a sensory experience enough to envelop visitors – Kiley, 2000.

Discrete spaces that become “outdoor rooms,” were influenced by Japanese architectural forms, which do not rely on “walls,” or exclusively physical frames to establish spatial boundaries. These spaces are defined from the ground upward. Starting with paving materials to offer texture, spaces are articulated in such a way to reinforce the cloistered nature of the space, and encourage serenity and contemplation.


Lasker Fountain: Water as a Strategic Design Element

The Lasker Memorial fountain, which borders the parking structure on the north end of campus, uses water, which is both collected in a rectangular pool and actively emerges from upward-streaming jets along the north wall, is both a reference to the Classical and ancient religious tradition of incorporating water as a ceremonial feature, and a functional design element that tempers the noise from the nearby road, and provides an intriguing visual display to enhance the views from the Abby Aldrich dining platform above.[25] Additionally, the ginkgo trees was set in the corner of the wall adjacent to the fountain “as punctuation,” but also, “their thrusting branches and stark habit are almost sculptural in maturity,” and recalls the modernist design strategy of Mies van der Rohe’s design for the German Pavilion, in Barcelona, Spain, completed for the Expo in 1929. According to Marc Trieb, “In Mies’s privileging of spatial flow, space does not stop at the ostensible boundary of the house but continues, merging with the site,” and this “diminished sense of enclosure tested the limits of architectural and spatial practice at the end of the 1920s.”[26] The use of a shallow, rectangular pool of water and the introduction of a curvilinear, vertical statue, using natural materials rather than polished stone, reveals Kiley’s interest in and influence by modernist spatial configurations.


Philosopher’s Garden

This area of campus, situated across from the Lasker fountain and Caspary Auditorium is perhaps the most eloquent expression of Kiley’s design intention of creating a “soothing sense of calm seclusion,” similar to the Japanese walled- gardens that Kiley admired.27 The garden and terrace area is slightly sunken, and one section is paved with the same marble slabs used in the pathways above, and given the same treatment: placed in a bed of crushed marble so as to float above the ground surface. The terrace is lined with five marble benches, and Kiley’s original design for the patio was to enclose the space with “double rows of European hornbeams,” however, these were removed as recently as five years ago in order to increase the amount of sun that is able to filter into the terrace area through the ever-denser canopy of trees overhead.28 The second element of the garden is an articulated orthogonal pool with four vertical water jets, semi- enclosed on the campus side by a row of five trees, and on the street side by an eight-foot wall covered in Boston Ivy.


The problem –and simultaneous advantage -of a work of landscape architecture is that nature evolves and transforms the landscape over time. The most significant change within the campus’s landscape since Kiley’s original design had

resulted from a reduction of light as a result of the growth of the canopy overhead, as well as the construction of new buildings since the initial design was carried out. Excessive shade was problematic in the case of the Philosopher’s Garden, and while the resulting space after removal of the European hornbeams is not in keeping with the original design, it affords students and staff with a space that better complements the kind of activities that occur there. Additionally, the growth of tree roots has proven an additional challenge as paving materials are being compromised, which is visible in several locations, especially the London Plane Trees.

The Rockefeller Campus landscape receives partial funding from the Mary Lasker Charitable Trust’s “Salute to the Seasons,” which has helped sustain the kind of long-term maintenance required for the campus landscape.29 Also, Payette Associates, a Boston-based architectural firm, was hired to evaluate the Rockefeller University campus and conducted a detailed review of campus history and its growth. In a University Press release, President Levine assured that, “The new space plan will ensure that the university’s future expansion is sensitive to that history, especially with respect to the landscape design of Daniel Kiley.”[30]


Daniel Kiley has been regarded by many architectural historians and the public alike, as one of the premier modern American landscape architects who practiced from the 1950s up until his death in February 2004 at the age of ninety-one. Kiley demonstrated a talent for designing landscapes that were appropriate for their setting and purpose, as well as remarkable outdoor places to inhabit. “He transformed landscape into modern space,” said Chicago landscape architect Peter Schauldt who worked for Kiley in the 1980s.31 His contribution to the profession far exceeded his work on the Rockefeller University campus and consists of nearly thirteen hundred – around two-thirds of which were realized – projects ranging from corporate campus designs to mid-century shopping mall landscapes, numerous designs for university campuses, and several renowned residential landscapes during the course of his long career.[32] Kiley’s first design that won him recognition among the professionals of his field was for the Miller Estate in Columbus, Indiana (designed in 1951), which became the first work of modernist landscape architecture to earn recognition on the National Register of Historic Places in 2001, under the multiple property submission entitled “Modernism in Architecture, Landscape Architecture, and Art in Bartholomew County, Indiana, 1945-1965.”[33]

Course of Preservation

Regardless of the design intentions, landscapes evolve over time and additionally become laden with meanings derived from the human uses that are assigned to them. While architects who are responsible for designing landscapes are equipped with conceptual design strategies, designers themselves cannot be certain whether or not they have created a space that is well-used and enjoyed by its visitors. Landscape Architect Laurie Olin provides a sympathetic explanation of the difficulty in preserving Modernist Landscapes:

Must one always have to choose between the polar opposites of total change or no change? Are there other choices? … Much remains of quality from the past, yet much that is absolutely new and of the highest quality is also produced and coexists beside, with, or around exemplary buildings, spaces, and landscapes? Designers are agents of change. They are optimists, believing that they can make the world better in some way through their work, but with that said, A low value is commonly attached to physical environments in general and to those of the recent past in particular … the actual decline, destruction, or disappearance of most landscape does seem invariably to begin with physical neglect and lack of maintenance. In addition to abandonment, landscape designs can be destroyed by unsympathetic alterations, the degradation of context, and tee development of a social situation that leads society to attack the setting in an effort to eradicate or displace the perceived problem.[34]

The fact that the physical landscape is teeming with layers of meaning and historical significance is an observation that, in itself, is not a revelation. There were inherent limitations in the concept of planning a campus for the Rockefeller University, but Dan Kiley’s design seemed to weave both the practical needs of the University to ensure logical growth, while also communicating the more imaginative and visionary aspirations of the campus to symbolize the larger utopian desires that underlie its physical realities. The Kiley landscape is foremost about people, and their shared experiences and philosophies that are defined within the context of its discrete outdoor spaces. More so than the campus buildings, the campus landscapes gives meaning, richness, and context to the lives of the individuals who reside and work on the Rockefeller campus. The idea of the campus landscape can more aptly be described as creating a sense of “place” for its inhabitants, which by definition: are “localities used for a special purpose,” and also, “physical environments and surroundings,” that become the larger settings for human life, especially in terms of psychology and the construction of memory.[35] From their necessarily human dimension, landscapes attain meanings that transcend their physical shells and become places that serve an essential, ongoing human function.

A preservation solution for the Rockefeller Campus, in that sense, would allow for the adoption of flexible guidelines to protect Kiley’s original design for the campus landscape from unsympathetic alterations while also balancing the changing needs of the University community and the necessary future expansion of the University by allowing for sensitive changes to occur. Additionally, an official maintenance plan should be adopted to carefully assess the inevitable –and occasionally undesirable – growth of the trees and vegetation in order for changes and substitutions to be made appropriately. Yet, restoring the physical resource is of little consequence if it is not relevant and appreciated by the campus community. The focus in “preserving” the landscape should be on fostering appreciation for the essential outdoor settings that nurture the daily activities and spiritual needs of the modern-day students of Rockefeller University.

© Kristina Nugent and Ephemeral Urbanity, [2013 – present]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kristina Nugent and EphemeralUrbanity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

1 Campus tour and meeting with Rockefeller University horticultural consultant Lulu Leibel, December 4, 2007.

2 Walsh, John. “The Rockefeller University: Science in a Different Key,” Science. 150 (Dec. 24, 1965): 1692-1695.

3-4 Charles A. Birnbaum, et. all. Preserving Modern Landscape Architecture II : Making Postwar Landscapes Visible. The Cultural Landscape Foundation, National Park Service Historic Landscape Initiative, Catalog of Landscape Records in the United States at Wave Hill. Washington, DC : Spacemaker Press, 2004, 73.

5-6 Kiley, Daniel Urban and Jane Amidon . Dan Kiley : The Complete Works of America’s Master Landscape Architect. Boston; New York : Bulfinch Press, 1999, p. 13.
7 Brown, Brenda J. “The Poetry of Passages: Dan Kiley’s Design Forms the Green, Modernist Heart of Rockefeller University in Manhattan.” Landscape Architecture 6 (2004): p. 102-113.

8-10 Brown, Brenda J. “The Poetry of Passages,” 103.

11-12 Newhouse, Victoria. Wallace K. Harrison, Architect. Rizzoli: New York, 1989, 176.

13 Trieb, Marc. “Dan Kiley and Classical Modernism: Mies in Leaf.” Landscape Journal, 24
(2005): p. 2.

14 Charles A. Birnbaum, et. all. Preserving Modern Landscape Architecture, 74.

15 Kiley, Daniel Urban and Jane Amidon. Dan Kiley : The Complete Works, 40.

16 Obituary, New York Times, February 25, 2004, F1.

17-18 Bleam, Gregg in Charles A. Birnbaum, et. all. Preserving Modern Landscape Architecture, 78.

19 Trieb, Marc. “Dan Kiley and Classical Modernism: Mies in Leaf.” Landscape Journal. 24 (2005): 1-12.

20 Bleam, Gregg in Charles A. Birnbaum, et. all. Preserving Modern Landscape Architecture, 74.

21-24 Kiley, Daniel Urban and Jane Amidon. Dan Kiley : The Complete Works, 29.

25 Campus tour and meeting with Rockefeller University horticultural consultant Lulu Leibel, December 4, 2007.

26 Trieb, Marc. “Dan Kiley and Classical Modernism,” 8.

27 “A Designer’s Designer, Dan Kiley Cast a Long Shadow, Appreciations by his Associates and Friends.” Landscape Architecture. 94 (2004): 117.

28-29 Campus tour and meeting with Rockefeller University horticultural consultant Lulu Leibel, December 4, 2007.

30 “Master Space Plan to Support Scientific Expansion.” News&Notes. [Rockefeller University] 12 (2001): 7-8.

31 Kiley, Daniel Urban and Jane Amidon. Dan Kiley: in his own words : America’s master landscape architect. London: Thames & Hudson, 1999.

32 Tomkins, Calvin, “The Garden Artist,” The New Yorker. New York. 71 (1995): 136.

33 Hilderbrand, Gary R. The Miller garden: Icon of Modernism. [Landmarks Series] Washington, DC: Spacemaker Press, 1999, 3.

34 Olin, Laurie, “Preserves Some, Yes, but also Improve, Add To and Let Some Go,” in Charles A. Birnbaum, et. all. Preserving Modern Landscape Architecture, 74.

35 Donlyn Lyndon and Charles W. Moore, Chambers for a Memory Palace, (Cambridge, Mass: MIT Press, 1994), 3-5.

More References:

1. Books and Publications:

Asensio Cerver, Francisco. The World of Landscape Architects [World of Environmental Design Series; v. 10], Barcelona: [Arco Editorial Board],1995.

Charles A. Birnbaum, et. all. Preserving Modern Landscape Architecture II : Making Postwar Landscapes Visible. The Cultural Landscape Foundation, National Park Service Historic Landscape Initiative, Catalog of Landscape Records in the United States at Wave Hill. Washington, DC : Spacemaker Press, 2004.

Cooper, Guy. Gardens for the Future : Gestures against the Wild. New York : Monacelli Press, 2000.

Hilderbrand, Gary R. The Miller garden: Icon of Modernism. [Landmarks Series] Washington, DC: Spacemaker Press, 1999.

Kiley, Daniel Urban and Jane Amidon. Dan Kiley: in his own words : America’s master landscape architect. London: Thames & Hudson, 1999.

Kiley, Daniel Urban and Jane Amidon . Dan Kiley : The Complete Works of America’s Master Landscape Architect. Boston; New York : Bulfinch Press, 1999.

Kiley, Daniel Urban, et al. The Oakland Museum : A Gift of Architecture. Oakland, Calif. : Oakland Museum Association, c1989.

Saunders, William S. Daniel Urban Kiley : The Early Gardens. New York: Princeton University Press, 1999.

Treib, Marc. The Architecture of Landscape, 1940-1960. Philadelphia : University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002. __________ Garrett Eckbo: Modern Landscapes for Living. Berkeley : University of California Press,1997. __________ Modern Landscape Architecture : A Critical Review. Cambridge, Mass. : MIT Press, 1993. __________ Settings and stray paths : writings on landscapes and gardens. New York : Routledge, 2005.

Turner, Paul V. Campus: An American Planning Tradition. Cambridge: The MIT Press, 1984.

Warren T. Byrd and Reuben M. Rainey eds. The Work of Dan Kiley : A Dialogue on Design
Theory. [Proceedings of the First Annual Symposium on Landscape Architecture. [The University of Virginia, School of Architecture, Division of Landscape Architecture, Campbell Hall, February 6, 1982]. Charlottesville: The Division of Landscape Architecture, 1983.

2. Periodicals:

“A contemporary Palladian village [Dan Kiley, Landscape Architect].” Architectural Forum. 109 (1958): 126-131.

“A Designer’s Designer, Dan Kiley Cast a Long Shadow, Appreciations by his Associates and Friends.” Landscape Architecture. 94 (2004):116-125.

A “village” design for a college campus [Dan Kiley, Landscape Architect]. Progressive Architecture. 39 (1958): 88-[101].

Antioch College, Yellow Springs, Ohio. Progressive Architecture. 30 (1949): 49-53.

“At the University of New Hampshire, a competition-winning student union [Dan Kiley and Ronald Gourley, architects]”. Architectural Forum. 98 (1953): 132-133.

Brown, Brenda J. “The Poetry of Passages: Dan Kiley’s Design Forms the Green, Modernist
Heart of Rockefeller University in Manhattan.” Landscape Architecture 6 (2004): 102-113.

“Campus Design: A New Focus on People” Architectural Record. 154 (1973): 145-160.

“Campus of Many Spaces” Architectural Forum.132 (1970): 34-39.

“Campus Planning” Architectural Record. 143 (1968): 148-164.

“Clarity, cohesiveness, good detail: IBM Education Center (Poughkeepsie, N.Y.) [Dan Kiley, Landscape Architect]”. Architectural Record. 126 (1959): 199-204.

“College buildings and planning” Architectural Record. 145 (1969): 145-160.

“Designing the Campus,” Architectural Record. 139 (1966): 165-188.

Eckbo, Garrett, Daniel U. Kiley, and James C. Rose. Landscape Design in the Primeval Environment. Architectural Record. 87 (1940): 73-79.

Eckbo, Garrett, Daniel U. Kiley, and James C. Rose. Landscape Design in the Rural Environment. Architectural Record. 86 (1939): 68-74.

Eckbo, Garrett, Daniel U. Kiley, and James C. Rose. Landscape Design in the Urban Environment. Architectural Record. 85 (1939): 70-77.

“Focusing University Development” Progressive Architecture 47(1966): 242-243.

Gill, Brendan. “Portrait: Dan Kiley” Architectural Digest. Los Angeles: Mar 1993. Vol. 50, Iss. 3; p. 34

Montgomery, Roger. “Center of Action.” Architectural Forum 132(1970): 65-68, 70.

Muschamp, Herbert. If Not Utopia, What is it? The World by Kiley.
New York Times (Late Edition (East Coast)). New York, N.Y.: Mar 1, 1996. p. C29 (1 page)

Obituary, New York Times, February 25, 2004.

Oppenheimer, Andrea. “Modern Master.” Landscape Architecture. 86 (1996): 74-79.

“People want planned outdoor space [Dan Kiley, Landscape Architect]”. House and Home. 5 (1954): 141.

Roe, Maggie. “Dan Kiley in His Own Words: America’s Master Landscape Architect,” Landscape Research. Abingdon: Jul 2000. Vol. 25, Iss. 2; p. 256-60.

S.L.. “Preservationists Worry About Lincoln Center Renovation,” Architectural Record. New York: Mar 2005. Vol. 193, Iss. 3; p. 34.

Silver, Nathan. “Translating the Root Form for Today’s Campus” Progressive Architecture 47 (1966): 156-175. Smith, Herbert L. “Campus of many spaces.” Architectural forum 132 (1970): [34]-[39].

 “The air-age acropolis: The U.S. Air Force Academy [Dan Kiley, Landscape Architect].” Architectural Forum. 110 (1959)158-165.

Tomkins, Calvin. The Garden Artist. The New Yorker. New York. 71 (1995), p. 136, 147-8.

Treib, Marc. “Dan Kiley and Classical Modernism: Mies in Leaf.” Landscape Journal. 24 (2005): 1-12.

Walker, Peter. “Pioneer Profile of Daniel Kiley.” The Cultural Landscape Foundation.

Walsh, John. “The Rockefeller University: Science in a Different Key.” Science. 150 (Dec. 24, 1965): 1692-1695.

Wurster, William Wilson. “Campus planning.” Architectural record 126 (1959):160-167.

3. Archival Materials:

Harrison, Wallace K. (Wallace Kirkman), 1895- Architectural drawings and papers, [ca. 1930-1980]. Avery Architectural Drawings and Archives, Columbia University.

© Kristina Nugent and Ephemeral Urbanity, [2013 – present]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kristina Nugent and EphemeralUrbanity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Behind that Brownstone Fascade: a glimpse inside the second floor study of a storied UES Townhouse


by Kristina Nugent

A town house on 255 East 71st street raises the question of whether or not historic preservation can be proven to demonstrate a bias towards protecting architecturally and aesthetically distinctive buildings at the expense of assigning an equal importance to embodied historic value. Herbert Croly, the founder of the New Republic magazine, editor of Architectural Record and author of several books concerning American politics and Progressive ideals, lived in the townhouse on 255 East 71st street for the final eight years of his life. Author Waldo David Frank noted in The American Jungle that:

Most men are set and long past growing before they are forty. This is true of the conspicuous and successful, no less than of the common. Herbert Croly [on the other hand] was a growing man until he was stricken, and the rate of his growth kept on accelerating with the years. This rare capacity, which toward the end transfigured him, was his true genius.


But even if one could make the case that Croly’s final years spent in the townhouse on the Upper East Side were indeed the most significant years of his life, is this enough to justify the preservation of his residence at the time, regardless of the building’s architectural qualities?


A similar question arose in an instance in the summer of 2000 when the New York University school of law, “planned to raze a town house on West Third Street where [Edgar Allen] Poe lived briefly in the 1840’s and replace it with a 13-story tower with classrooms and offices,” after, “the Landmarks Commission declined to designate the building,” according to the New York Times.[i] . The reasons against preserving the town house given by NYU’s president, John H. Beckman, were namely that, “While we agree that commemorating Poe is important, and we are committed to finding a way to do it, we do not believe that preserving this structure is the appropriate way to do it.”[ii] Can – and should – this conclusion be applied to other preservation scenarios where there is a strong case for historic significance but a weak argument for architectural merit?

The House and the Neighborhood

The house where Herbert Croly lived in New York is located on the north side of East 71st Street between Second and Third Avenues. The property upon which the physical structure was built originally was owned as part of the estate of Colford and Eleanor Jones. Prior to Mrs. Jones death on June 23, 1855, the land holdings were divided among her relatives and the parcel upon which the town house in question now sits was originally granted to Isaac Carew and James J. Jones in 1822. In 1831, a portion of the parcel was sold to John Jones Schermerhorn. After the death of Eleanor Jones in 1855, Edmund H. Schermerhorn desired to purchase the entire parcel on East 71st Street from the grantees of Eleanor (Pendleton) Jones, but several family members refused to sell their shares. The matter was brought to the Supreme Court of the State of New York, and the outcome was that much of the land was sold to individual members of the Schermerhorn family while several Pendleton and Jones family members held on to their shares of the estate, including the property that was to become 255 East 71st Street. The land continued to be sold or passed down. In 1865 the area around East 71st street was transforming into a residential area, and accordingly, when the property was granted to Richard M. Hoe by his parents in 1865, he initiated the construction of the row house that has occupied this lot up until the current time.


The row house came into the Croly’s ownership in July 2, 1923 when Louise Croly obtained it from the Redmond sisters. That same year, Croly was given money from Dorothy Straight of the New Republic to “remodel the house on 255 Seventy-First Street,” and, “Herbert, for the first time in his life, had his own study.”[iii] According to Christopher Gray, Dorothy Straight and her husband, Willard Straight, were both deeply influenced by Croly’s first book, The Promise of American Life, and since, “The Straights were particularly interested in liberal politics, in1914 Croly was invited to meet Dorothy and Willard at their Long Island home. While there, Croly commented that Norman Hapgood, the recently appointed editor of Harper’s Weekly, had failed to turn it into the liberal journal that America needed. Dorothy suggested that the three of them should start their own journal.”[iv] Together, they founded The New Republic journal, which first appeared on 7th November 1914. Willard Straight financed the journal and appointed Croly as its president and its editor-in-chief. The journal was, “outspoken in favor of women’s rights, the labor movement and American involvement in international affairs, and also became a strong supporter of Theodore Roosevelt and the Progressive movement.”[v]


In a letter to Mrs. Straight, Herbert wrote “he worked [in the new study on 255 East 71st Street] every morning, usually on next week’s leader or editorial. Around noon he brought his handwritten notes to the typist at the office and, at one lunched with those staff members and guests who happened to be present. He then retired back to his study on the second floor and took a nap on his couch – he had installed a special “vita glass” in the windows because he had been persuaded that it would screen out actinic rays and preserve health.”[vi]


For Croly, this row house was more than his residence, but was the setting in which several of his most important writings were created.


Structural History and Alterations

This wood-framed, masonry-sheathed Italianate row house was built in 1869, altered in 1923 by Herbert Croly, and again in 1972 by owner George S. Borey by the architect Robert H. Simpson who converted the former single-family house into a duplex. The original construction drawings are missing from the Building’s Department file, but the 1923 alteration drawings reveal that the formerly transitional Italianate/Georgian-style facade (that still remains on the adjacent row house to the right-hand side of this building) was altered. The architect’s drawings to alter the façade were not fully realized, and while the decorative right-side stoop and second-story entrance was later removed and a new entry door was added to the ground level.


The former second-story entrance had consisted of Doric-pilasters that flanked the wood-paneled front entry door, with an arched pediment over and an oversized decorative keystone and still appeared in the 1939 tax photo. An additional aspect of the 1923 design was to add a ground-floor entrance on the right side of the building and the architect’s plans indicated that the entry was intended to be recessed (as was popular in Beaux-Arts designs). It is uncertain why this plan was not carried through since there is documentation stating that Croly received funds from Mrs. Straight to remodel the home in 1923; these plans are from 1923 but it is clear from the tax photos that many of the exterior alterations were not made during Croly’s lifetime.


In 1972 the house was converted into a duplex and a ground-floor entrance was finally added. The plans of the architect indicate that he changed very little on the façade with the exception of removing the stoop and elaborate decoration around the second-story entrance, and adding a metal spiral-staircase to the exterior in order to provide access to the upper-story apartment. More extensive changes were made to the interior in order to add an additional kitchen and more bathroom facilities that were needed to accommodate two tenants.

In past landmark discussions, board members of the Landmarks Commission have given the fact that a building, “had been significantly altered over time,” as a reason for not designating the historic resource.[1] While the modernizations may have substantially altered the original use of the building, the overall aesthetic quality of the row house on 255 East 71st street has not drastically changed from the time in which Croly lived there from around 1922 to 1930. It follows that, while alterations may influence the potential significance of a historic structure, in this instance, the modernizations have had a negligible impact on the historic character of this row house.

Career of Herbert Croly (1869-1930):

­            From his obituary in the New York Times, the defining moments of Croly’s life were noted.

While these few details only begin to hint at the achievements and contributions of Mr. Croly during his lifetime, they offer a succinct biographical sketch:

Mr. Croly was a son of the late David G. Croly of this city, a former editor of The World, and of The Graphic. After spending a year (1884-85) at the College of the City of New York, he studied for a year at Harvard, leaving to return in 1985 and study philosophy with the intention of teaching the subject until 1899, when he left (again) without getting his doctoral degree. He obtained a position with The Architectural Record, was its editor from 1900-1906, and continued as a member of its staff until 1913. He relinquished the editorship in order to throw himself into the preparation of the book that made his reputation, “The Promise of American Life,” issued in 1909. The impression made by this volume led him to write, “Marcus Alonzo Hanna, His Life and Work,” 1912, which was followed by “Progressive Democracy,” in 1914. In November 1914, The New Republic made its appearance. His home in the city was at 255 East Seventy-First Street.”[vii]

To add, author David W. Levy published a longer biographical narrative, Herbert Croly of The New Republic, in 1985. Levy focused his investigation primarily on Croly’s political ideas, but necessarily grounded Croly’s beliefs in a study of his early life, which was seen by the author to have had a measurable influence on his career path, his political writings and involvement in the political events of his adult lifetime.

Although Croly began his career with Architectural Record, it was not architecture that enflamed his passion, but politics. However, from the standpoint of American architectural history, Croly’s contribution to the field was far from insignificant. He wrote several books on the subject, and over one hundred articles relating to American architecture that are useful snapshots of architectural discussions that engaged Americans during that time. In the Architectural Record, Croly, in one instance, looked at the rise and fall of the once ultra-fashionable brownstone facades, and “traced it back to the 1830s and points to its final triumph during the early eighties in the Vanderbilt houses opposite St. Patrick’s Cathedral, [but wrote that] thereafter it was abandoned so speedily, both by speculative builders and by the richer men who built their own houses, that the sudden change can only be accounted for on the ground, partly, no doubt, unconscious, of an utter weariness of the flesh and spirit.”[viii] His political ideologies often colored his writings on architecture, and in one such instance he wrote on the lack of progress made in New York City for public improvements, and wrote with great zeal on the role of the city government should play in promoting aesthetics and why it is not practical in his time, given the widespread corruption of city officials:

…Thus the municipal art reform movement is closely associated with the general movement towards municipal reform. As long as our municipal governments are untrustworthy, public opinion will be loath to sanction any considerable increase in their legal powers; and as long as such increase in legal powers remains unsanctioned the vision of a beautified and glorified future for our larger American cities must remain, to a large extent, impracticable.[ix]

As a brief overview of the political events that occurred during Croly’s lifetime, he was raised during the heyday of the “spoils system” in American politics and grew weary of the candidacies of Benjamin Harrison, “ … and Tyler too,” and the dishonesty of “log cabin” campaigns which functioned more as popular spectacles than as serious, issues-based elections. Growing up in New York City, especially, and seeing firsthand the vast exploitation of the city’s immigrant populations through the mastermind political machine of Tammany Hall, and the detestable legacy of Mayor “Boss” Tweed, it makes sense why Croly supported the governmental reforms that were championed by the Progressive Party that aimed to end “machine politics” and re-establish a more just, democratic electoral system.

Yet, Croly refused to align himself with the any political party even though the agenda of Theodore Roosevelt especially resonated with Croly. He was even offered a job by President Roosevelt, himself, which Croly, “politely declined on the grounds of political independence.”[x]Croly’s first book, The Promise of American Life arguably cemented Croly’s reputation as an esteemed political thinker in America during this time.[xi] According to Richard Hofstadter in, The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R., “American Magazine, at the height of the 1912 presidential campaign, hailed Croly as the “man from whom Colonel [Theodore] Roosevelt got his ‘new nationalism.”‘[xii]

As Levy wrote, the years between 1909 and 1914: “…were particularly thrilling for Herbert Croly. His work was widely respected. His services were eagerly solicited: to write articles or deliver papers, to prepare planks for the platform of an old party, to serve as an officer for a new one … [and] Croly came to know a number of Washington luminaries … and other socially prominent, politically important men.”[xiii] In 1918, with endowment funds from Mr. Straight, the two men founded a new college in New York City, “to be devoted to Political Science,” which The Nation called, “a profoundly important and fascinating educational experiment,” and arguably was the forerunner for such an educational curriculum that continues to be taught in the current age.[xiv]

The nineteen twenties were initially difficult for Croly after the death of his business partner, and good friend, Willard Straight, which he captured in a biography of Straight which was published shortly after his death. Croly and The New Republic, continued to carry on, and Croly continued to take on more responsibility in order to see to it that his agenda was being carried out by supporting such causes that would further its reach. Unexpectedly, in 1928, Croly became, “seriously ill at his home, 255 East Seventy-First Street, having suffered a paralytic stroke several weeks ago, it was learned yesterday. Inquiries at the home brought the information that he was improved yesterday.”[xv] A day later, it was reported in the Times that he was, “in a “satisfactory condition at his home, 255 East Seventy-First Street, last night.”[xvi]

Yet Croly did not fully recover and two years later, he “died in a hospital in Santa Barbara, Calif. on May 17, 1930 at the age of sixty one (apparently he had been staying with in Montecito, since November).[xvii] Croly’s letter of administration read: “Herbert D. Croly (May 17th). Estate, $35,000. To Louise E. Croly, widow, 255 East Seventy-First Street. Other heir, sister.”[xviii]

Croly House in New Hampshire:

As an aside, Croly’s vacation home in Cornish New Hampshire is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. On the designation report, the historic significance of the property was:

Herbert Croly came to Cornish initially in 1893. For the next two summers his family rented “Barberry House”, then belonging to Frank Johnson. In 1897 Herbert Croly, then editor of the Architectural Record bought this piece of pasture land from Edward Bryant and commissioned Charles Platt to build this house overlooking Dingleton Hill, the Connecticut Valley and Mt. Ascutney. It was here that Croly wrote The Promise of American Life (1909) and Progressive Democracy (1914). Croly also served as editor of the liberal weekly, New Republic, founded in 1914. Philip Littell, who lived down the hill, served as the first literary editor. Croly was one of a handful of colonists who remained in Cornish for the greater part of the year.[xix]

The critical aspect of this property, as opposed to Croly’s New York townhouse was its undeniable architectural merit, and that Croly, himself, commissioned the “prominent” architect Charles Platt to design his home, as well as the fact that his formative years writing The Promise were spent at this home.


The criteria by which most historic buildings become landmarks or are eligible for the national register is by exhibiting distinctive architectural qualities that generally reflect the work of a well-known professional architect. But why include the additional category for historical significance if a building is unlikely to qualify if this unstated, but essential criterion is not met?


Arguably, historic places have a dual purpose: as a stage for contemporary human life, and as ciphers that collect the memories from an earlier age. The buildings themselves must function didactically, and are essential resources for the present society to learn about the past. Therefore the question in this example is what we can learn about Croly’s life through the townhouse on 255 East 71st street, and does the exemplified personal history in question warrant designation of the physical structure in question? In this instance, the facts at hand justify a hearing. Then, as with any landmarks designation in New York City, it is the responsibility of the Commissioners, based on historic evidence and public input, to make a final finding on this matter.

© Kristina Nugent and Ephemeral Urbanity, [2013 – present]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kristina Nugent and EphemeralUrbanity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

[i] Grady, Jim, “City Lore; Fear! Dread! Torment! Why Poe’s Fans Are Obsessive,” New York Times, February 18, 2001.

[ii] Siegal, Nina, “Rapping on Poe’s Door, A Hint of Nevermore; Anger in Village Over N.Y.U. Tower,” New York Times, July 19, 2000, C4.

[iii] Levy, David W., Herbert Croly of the New Republic: the life and thought of an American progressive, (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press), 1985, p.287.

[iv] Gray, Christopher, “Streetscapes/1915 Straight Residence, Until Recently the International Center of Photography; The Northernmost Mansion Built on Fifth Avenue,” October 14, 2001.

[v] Ibid.

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] “Herbert Croly Dies at Santa Barbara,” The New York Times, (ProQuest Historical Newspapers, 1851 – 2004), May 18, 1930, pg. 31.

[viii] “Art as a Humanizer,” (ProQuest Historical Newspapers, The New York Times, 1851 – 2004), Jun 7, 1903, pg. 11.

[ix] Croly, Herbert, “Civic Improvements: The Case of New York,” Architectural Record, 21(May 1907): 347-352.

[x] Levy, David W., Herbert Croly of the New Republic,” p.159.

[xi] “Croly, Herbert David.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 25 Oct. 2007  <;.

[xii] Hofstadter, Richard, The Age of Reform: From Bryan to F.D.R., (Vintage: New York, 1955), p.147.

[xiii] Ibid, 160.

[xiv] “Found New College, Faculty to Control,”  (ProQuest Historical Newspapers, The New York Times, 1851 – 2004), May 10, 1918, pg. 9.

[xv] “Herbert Croly Very Ill,” New York Times,  (ProQuest Historical Newspapers; 1857-Current file), Nov 27, 1928, pg. 25.

[xvi] “Herbert Croly Recovering,” New York Times,  (ProQuest Historical Newspapers; 1857-Current file), Nov 28, 1928, pg. 20.

[xvii] “Herbert Croly Dies at Santa Barbara,” The New York Times, (ProQuest Historical Newspapers, 1851 – 2004), May 18, 1930, pg. 31.

[xviii] “Classified Ad 1 — No Title,” (ProQuest Historical Newspapers, The New York Times, 1851 – 2004), Jun 8, 1930; pg. 36.

[xix] “Croly House in New Hampshire,” Site: N08-048, Cornish, NH. Location: Saint-Gaudens Road, north side. Site Type: House. UTMs: (Zone 18) E: 713570. N: 4820080. Lisa Mausolf, Preservation Specialist, Upper Valley-Lake Sunapee Council, 314 First NH Bank Building, Lebanon, NH 03766, November 1989.


Image 1: “DWE US Office,” Papers of Dorothy Whitney Elmhirst. (From left: Herbert Croly, Dorothy and Leonard Elmhirst, and Louise Croly. The car is a 1925 Sunbeam 14/40 coupe.)

Image 2: Croly, Herbert David.” Encyclopedia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopedia Britannica Online. 25 Oct. 2007  <;.

Image 3: “Croly’s Second-Floor Study,” author, October 25, 2007.

Image 4: “Townhouse on 255 East 71st Street, Evening” author, October 25, 2007.

Image 5: “Townhouse on 255 East 71st Street, Morning” author, October 26, 2007.

Image 6: “Croly’s Second-Floor Study, Morning ,” author, October 26, 2007.

Image 7: “Fence: 255 East 71st Street,” author, October 25, 2007.

Image 8: NYC Department of Finance, Conveyance Records, Block 1426, (Prior to 1916).

(Lot 20 is the current address for 255 East 71st Street)

Images 9, 10: NYC Department of Buildings, File for 1426-0020. Alteration “300,” 1972.

Paul Rudolph’s Campus Architecture of the 1960’s

by Kristina Nugent


When Paul Rudolph left Twitchell’s Florida partnership to start his own practice in 1951, the period that followed marked Rudolph’s swift departure from the International Style in favor of developing a rough, dynamic, and challenging aesthetic – of his own invention – that has come to define his oeuvre.[1] As Rudolph is remembered today for his signature stylistic impact on concrete modernism, his contributions to urbanism and master planning are equally deserving of recognition.[2] One commission in particular, his design and master plan for a new university campus in Southeastern Massachusetts, signifies a pioneering contribution in the area of campus planning and architectural history.[3]


By the late 1950s, Rudolph’s preferred construction medium was undeniably concrete.[4] Rudolph preferred “buildings that respond to light and shade, to buildings that are all reflection.”[5] To achieve this solidity and expressiveness, he used several methods to enliven the surface of his buildings: from ribbed concrete block, to arranging cantilevered elements at contrasting angles, and inserting window openings that would directly achieve desired interior light effects, rather than basing openings on a prescribed, formal arrangement. One of his most often-employed techniques was to striate the surface of the concrete block to effectively, “break down the scale of walls and catch the light in many different ways because of its heavy texture.”[6] These, as well as other practices developed by Rudolph, were intended to add visual interest to the concrete composition, as well as avoid the tendency that large buildings had of becoming “overpoweringly dull and lifeless.”[7]


(Photo above: Seth Tisue, Creative Commons Licensed)

As Rudolph continued to develop new design mythologies and rendering techniques, it was his commission in 1962 to design the Government Services Center in Boston for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts with the Boston architectural firm of Desmond & Lord that further established Rudolph as not only an innovative and sought-after architect, but as a skillful master planner as well.[8] The partners of Desmond & Lord approached Rudolph to lead the project design for a campus master plan for an entirely new college campus in Southeastern Massachusetts, and Rudolph readily accepted.[9] This commission presented a substantial departure from the problems that Rudolph had encountered working on the Government Services Center as he was able to “execute one of the most comprehensive explorations of his signature architectural style on an unprecedented scale.”[10]


The initial commission awarded to Desmond & Lord in 1962 entailed the design of a master plan, as well as a site and buildings group plan for the new Massachusetts University campus.[11] An article that appeared in Architectural Record in 1966 noted, “Only since the latter part of the 1960s have colleges and universities begun again to build powerful over-all campus forms. The article referenced Rudolph’s master plan for SMTI as, “ Something that is very rare among today’s colleges and university buildings – a single architectural concept strong enough to control the design of a whole campus.”[12] Since the SMTI campus began at the start of the national university building boom, Rudolph’s master plan had a far-reaching architectural and campus planning impact on the decades that followed.

Rudolph was able to effectively establish the groundwork for the campus by laying out the Campus Master Plan of 1964 and the design of the first “Group I” Arts and Humanities building. However, criticism over the “high construction costs” continued to mount as Rudolph began his design for the “Group 2” Science and Engineering building. Throughout the design process, Rudolph had been instructed to take cost into account, but not at the expense of what he determined to be the essential aspects of the design itself. Calculations revealed that the Rudolph’s final costs were not considerably higher per square foot than the lowest bids, despite the presence of built-in furniture, a “substantial amount of site work and the special corrugated concrete block, which turned out to be almost identical in cost to ordinary block in the quantities used.”[13]  The Group I building was critiqued primarily for it’s expensive appearance: the elaborate interior spaces, the large expanses of glass, and their monumental design. “The new campus was a controversial project with a modernist designer who came up with a scheme that was hardly traditional. The design and completion of Group 1 was shocking to most people. No one in this area had ever seen anything like it. It was easy to criticize as a result.”[14]


The Commonwealth government and University officials were further dissatisfied when Rudolph’s Group 2 came at a higher cost than even the Group I building, which they had already deemed to be over budget. Under orders from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, Desmond and Lord were instructed to remove Rudolph from the project in June of 1966.[15] Following Rudolph’s departure, Desmond & Lord became the architects of record on most of the other campus buildings in the 1960s and 1970s, and adhered to the master plan that Rudolph had prescribed. Barnes noted, “The team that worked on the project at Desmond & Lord was very loyal to him and still is to this day.”[16] The firm managed to lower the cost of construction (by estimating the building without the higher cost of air conditioning), which allowed the integrity of Rudolph’s original vision to be preserved.[17] Later building additions that were consistent with his original plan were faithfully carried out by successive architectural firms, in some cases with Rudolph acting as the consulting architect when he returned a decade later to design several buildings including the Student Center, the Textile building, and the Dion Science and Engineering building.

While Rudolph was not ultimately responsible for designing every building in the central core of the Dartmouth campus, judging from the architectural unity of the composition once the Dion building was completed in 1988, Rudolph’s master plan was diligently adhered to in later designs. As critics has proclaimed in 1966 that Rudolph’s plan was designed around a “single architectural concept, strong enough to control the design of a whole campus,” what resulted, at least comparing the original site plan with what was actually built, was remarkably close to the original intention.[18] Although three of the buildings were entirely or partially designed by Rudolph, they were not necessarily more significant than the others since without the strength of the ensemble, Rudolph’s greater vision – the master plan itself – would be lost. Beyond the nine of the “original” main campus buildings built between 1964 and 1988, the campus open space, as well as the original site plan and design of the campus landscape is as significant as the individual buildings.


The ‘appreciation’ of this Paul Rudolph campus has shifted in a dramatic way in the last ten years, mainly due to an increased awareness of the significance of the architecture in a historic sense. While some still regard the campus aesthetic as, hard, cold and uninviting, there is a realization of its importance.[19] Rudolph’s master plan and the resulting UMass Dartmouth campus demonstrated Rudolph’s skill as both a practical architect and a visionary. Although the Commonwealth had been unsupportive of a campus plan in the years following Rudolph’s master plan, rendering its concrete forms extravagant for the overextended and ad-hoc postwar decades, the campus stood as a testament to the endurance of Rudolph’s architectural vision.

© Kristina Nugent and Ephemeral Urbanity, [2013 – present]. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Kristina Nugent and EphemeralUrbanity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.


[1] Davern, Jeanne M. “A Conversation with Paul Rudolph.” Architectural Record, Vol. 170 (March 1982), p. 90-97. Rudolph’s earliest design influences include Gropius and other Graduate School of Design instructors he encountered during his time at Harvard as a master’s student.

[2] Rudolph’s first major commissions included developing master plans for several academic and government-sponsored projects, such as the design for the Blue Cross-Blue Shield building in Boston (1954-7), the Jewett Arts Center at Wellesley College (1955-58), the Tuskegee Institute (1958), Sarasota High School (1958-60), and especially the Art and Architecture Building at Yale University (1958-64).

[3] Rudolph was designing the UMass campus while serving as the Dean of the Architecture School at Yale, in Biemiller, Lawrence, “At Yale, an Unlikely Champion for ‘the Building That Won’t Go Away,’” The Chronicle of Higher Education (6 June 2008), online: Also of note is the change in the perception of Modern architecture on the Yale campus: “While other institutions struggle with decisions about buildings from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, Mr. Stern says members of the Yale Corporation, the university’s governing board, think of its Modernist structures as valuable artifacts in the university’s collection.”They talk about these buildings,” he says, “as if they were Rembrandts or Mondrians.”

[4] Mehrtens, Cristina. “Brutal identity: Paul Rudolph, the city and the renewal of the modern,” University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Paul Rudolph Symposium, UMass Dartmouth April 13, 2005. Like Peter and Allison Smithson, Rudolph’s body of work did not represent a strict chronological progression, nor did he attempt to replicate Florida Modernism in the Northeast, even as other major architects of the time, Edward Durell Stone and Phillip Johnson, were designing glass houses in non-temperate climates.

[5] Rudolph was remarking on his design of the Boston Blue Cross Blue Shield Building of 1957, and how it influenced his design for the Yale A+A, from Rohan, Timothy. “Rendering the Surface: Paul Rudolph’s Art and Architecture Building at Yale”.  Grey Room 1, 2000, p. 85.

[6] Ibid.

[7] Ibid, the author also noted that the buildings at the SMTI campus were not built using the same bush hammered concrete Rudolph had selected for the A&A building at Yale, but rather concrete block that he had first used in the construction of the Crawford Manor (housing for the elderly) in New Haven, Connecticut.

[8] Barnes, Bruce. Interview with William Grindereng: Longtime Architectural Associate of Architect Paul Rudolph. Recorded in Boston Massachusetts, June 28, 2006.

[9] Conversation with Bruce Barnes on March 3, 2008, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth Librarian and creator of the website “Paul Rudolph and his Architecture,” Barnes also organized the April, 2005 symposium for the Chancellor’s “Breaking New Ground” Initiative.

[10] Ibid.

[11] The design for the new “Southeastern Massachusetts Technical Institute” campus (SMTI), was controversial well before it was designed. The Commonwealth had little interest in funding such an ambitious project for this economically depressed region, from Barnes, Bruce. Interview with William Grindereng: Longtime Architectural Associate of Architect Paul Rudolph. Recorded in Boston Massachusetts, June 28, 2006.

[12] “Architecture that Gives a Campus the Unity of a Single building.” Architectural Record, 1966 Oct., v. 140, n. 4, p. [145]-160

[13] That was the price per square foot in 1966. Today this would have amounted to around $45 per sq. foot, from: “Will Rudolph’s Vision of the SMTI Campus be Fully Realized?” Architectural Record, 1966 Oct., v. 140,  n. 4, p. 156.

[14] Conversation with Bruce Barnes on March 3, 2008, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth Librarian and creator of the website “Paul Rudolph and his Architecture,”

[15] Ibid.

[16] Conversation with Bruce Barnes on March 3, 2008, University of Massachusetts, Dartmouth Librarian and creator of the website “Paul Rudolph and his Architecture,” Barnes also organized the April, 2005 symposium for the Chancellor’s “Breaking New Ground” Initiative.

[17] As one critic remarked, “In the design of Group I, Paul Rudolph had cast the dye for the execution of his vision by subsequent designers who were faithful to his unique vision for the SMTI / SMU campus,” in, “Will Rudolph’s Vision of the SMTI Campus be Fully Realized?” Architectural Record, 1966 Oct., v. 140,  n. 4, p. 156.

[18] “Architecture that Gives a Campus the Unity of a Single building.” Architectural Record, 1966 Oct., v.

140, n. 4, p. 146.

[19] Conversation with Peter Gagnon, the Associate Director of Facilities Planning, Design and Construction of UMass Dartmouth during a campus visit on both Feb. 13, 2009 and an email follow-up March 19, 2009.