MTA to Reveal Latest Designs for Mulry Square

Mulry Square

Next Tuesday, May 31st, the MTA will present its final proposed designs for an emergency ventilation plant on Mulry Square to the Landmarks & Public Aesthetics Committee of Community Board 2. The Landmarks Preservation Commission will give their official sign-off one week later, on June 7th (UPDATE as of June 3rd: The LPC hearing on this application has been postponed to a date TBD. Be sure to visit our Landmarks Applications Webpage for the most up-to-date information).

This stage in the project’s development has been quite a long time coming…

The MTA first proposed this plant way back in 2007, and in 2009 revealed their first round of proposed design options. Tossed into the mix was a concrete plant, a concrete plant masked by a floating “faux historic” red brick facade, and a concrete plant buried under a whole lot of greenery. Feast your eyes:

Proposed design options presented by the MTA in June 2010

Tiles for America

Now, as many readers are aware, Mulry Square is no ordinary vacant lot. Not only has it been for years falsely speculated that Edward Hopper based Nighthawks at the Diner on a restaurant at this location, but post-9/11 it also became the unlikely site of the impromptu Tiles For America exhibit, one of our city’s most poignant and recognized memorials of the tragic World Trade Center terrorist attacks. GVSHP and other members of the community have continuously urged the MTA to permanently preserve and protect these tiles, which in the years since the tragedy have fallen into disrepair.

In response, along with their three initial design options, the MTA also came up with some options for permanently displaying the tiles. The last option involved constructing a “diner” shell to place in the corner of the lot:

The MTA's June 2009 proposed options for preserving the Tiles for America

Well, needless to say the community was none-too-thrilled with this initial round of designs. Bear in mind that at the intersection of two wide avenues and several smaller streets, Mulry Square is a highly visible and prominent location where the rectilinear street grid of Manhattan gives way to the irregular street pattern of Greenwich Village. GVSHP and other community members have always felt that anything built should be designed appropriately within this extremely important context. And we were vociferous about communicating to the MTA that floating facades, “ghost” windows, and sub-standard designs didn’t exactly fit the bill. We urged them instead to consider engaging an outside design consultant, fixing certain off-putting proposed design elements, and designing the corner lot as a welcoming public gathering space.

The MTA didn’t exactly listen to us, as we learned when they presented an updated design in May 2010:

May 2010 revised design

The familiar elements were all there. Floating facade? Check! Ghostly windows lacking glass? Check! Outside consultant? Certainly not.

But a year has passed since this latest rendering was shown, and with all that time to rework things we’ll be anxious to see if the MTA has finally gotten it right this time around. Do good things come to those who wait? Earlier this week I spoke briefly with Adrienne Taub, their Assistant Director for Government & Community Relations, who assured me that changes had indeed been made since May 2010. We’re looking forward to seeing them, and hope this highly important location will be a graced with a building that lives up to its prominence.


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avatar Elizabeth Finkelstein is GVSHP's Director of Preservation & Research.