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To Respect Isamu Noguchi’s Vision, Architects Revise Controversial Plaza Renovation Plan [UPDATED]

After an outcry by aficionados and community members, architects have submitted a new proposal to redesign the plaza that houses Noguchi’s “Red Cube” sculpture.

Rendering of NV5’s revised design for 140 Broadway (image courtesy NV5)

In January, a proposed redesign of a prominent Manhattan plaza caused an uproar among aficionados and community members. The public plaza is part of 140 Broadway, designed by architecture and engineering firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.

Some saw the design as a move to displace food vendors with planters and benches along Broadway, while others objected most to the aesthetics of a large tree planter offsetting the purposeful asymmetry of Isamu Noguchi’s “Red Cube” sculpture in the space. The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum decried designers and the owner of the building for failing to consult them, calling the whole design detrimental to Noguchi’s vision.

Now, the firms behind the redesign have released a revised plan.

Landscape architects at NV5 worked with preservation consultants at Higgins Quasebarth & Partners to modify their proposal, which they submitted to the Landmarks Preservation Commission for a hearing on Tuesday, March 20, reported Audrey Wachs in The Architect’s Newspaper. The new design does away with the 14-foot-wide tree planter that so offended the Noguchi Foundation, but benches and planters that would block food carts remain. As Erin Rulli, a partner at Higgins Quasebarth, told Wachs, “the carts have caused a dramatic shift in how you experience the space … It’s not the intention to deprive anyone of their livelihoods, but rather, it’s a design move for the benefit of the plaza.”

Rendering of NV5’s revised design for 140 Broadway (image courtesy NV5)

Ultimately, the Department of Transportation will decide the fate of the food vendors, as public spaces like this fall under the DOT’s jurisdiction. A DOT spokesperson told Curbed in a statement that they “directed the petitioner to revise the original proposal, which would have permanently displaced all vendors on Broadway with benches and planters. The revised design aims to strike a balance to include vendors, planters and benches while also maximizing views of the Noguchi Cube from directly across Broadway and on diagonals through each corner. Benches and planters are proposed toward each corner, and space for 3 vendors would be reserved in the center of the block.”

Update, 3/20/2018, 4:50pm: The Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum responded to Hyperallergic’s inquiry, calling the revised plan “a significant improvement,” but taking issue with several of its components. The Senior Curator of the Isamu Noguchi Foundation and Garden Museum, Dakin Hart, provided the following comment about the revised renovation plan:

The changes NV5 have made recently to their proposed renovations to the plaza around 140 Broadway are a significant improvement. The elimination of the large circular planter, the recessing of the Helmsley memorial, and the elimination of trees from the new planters planned for the Cedar side of the site will all help to maintain the scale and conceptually geometric quality of “Red Cube”‘s relationship to the plaza.

The proposed addition of planters and benches along the edge of the plaza on the Broadway side remains problematic. While the current presence of the food trucks is a visual obstruction to “Red Cube,” they are neither permanent nor intentional changes to the design. We believe it is worth aiming to reestablish the plaza as a visually continuous plane, as it was conceived. These planters and benches will permanently affect “Red Cube” in a way that is at odds with Noguchi and Bunshaft’s conception of the space. Though well-intentioned, we believe these suggestions represent a step in the wrong direction. We hope DOT will take that into consideration as they review the plans.

The Landmarks Preservation Commission will review the proposal to renovate the plaza on March 20 at approximately 11:45 am at 1 Centre Street, Municipal Building, 9th floor, Manhattan. Written testimony may be submitted online in advance.

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