NYU Renovation Tosses Architecture and History Out the Window

It’s disappointing but hardly surprising — NYU destroying a small but important piece of the Village’s architectural heritage and character.  What is puzzling, however, is how utterly unnecessary the destruction appears to be.

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Brittany Hall before (l.) and after NYU’s most recent renovation

NYU is renovating its Brittany Hall dormitory at 55 East 10th Street, at the northwest corner of Broadway.  The 15-story tower is located directly across from one of New York’s most revered landmarks, the Gothic style 1846 Grace Church by James Renwick.

In fact, when the Brittany was built in 1929 as an apartment hotel, it consciously and respectfully echoed the Gothic style of its venerable neighbor across the street.  One way in which it did this was with carefully designed, multi-pane casement windows, which add rhythm to the facade and reflect the intricate details of the gothic style.

Now, this is no longer the case.

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A hodge-podge of blank new windows and more appropriate older windows now litter the facade; it appears all the old windows may be going

It’s difficult to understand why, other than expediency or ignorance, NYU took a proverbial architectural hatchet to this building.  A challenge presented by pre-war multi-pane casement windows is that they are not always the most energy efficient, and in recent years many have been replaced on older buildings.  But this is not the reason for NYU’s architectural butchery of the Brittany.

Good, modern replacement casement windows can provide up-to-date energy efficiency while maintaining the architectural detail and design of the originals.  In fact, NYU replaced the original casement windows at the Brittany a few years ago and did exactly that — chose new casements which, for the most part, retained the originals’ delicate and sophisticated design and details.

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Brittany Hall, facing Grace Church across lower Broadway, pre-renovation

But now, as part of an ongoing renovation of the 85 year old tower, NYU is ripping out the modern casement windows and replacing them with the blank, single pane ones.  The new windows look like they were made for a spacecraft, or at best, a suburban office park, rather than a pre-war Gothic tower.  Many of the windows have already been replaced, but it appears that many more, and perhaps even all, will soon be gone as a consequence of NYU’s handiwork.

As a result, one of the Village’s most distinguished pre-war high-rises is now a pale shadow of its former self.

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New York Evening Post, 1928

Ironically, NYU has bragged about and promoted the historic character of the Brittany on their website, referring to it as “our beautiful and historic building” in their pitch to prospective students.  Adding insult to injury, the same webpage advertises multiple pictures of Brittany Hall dorm rooms, benevolently framed by the historic casement windows NYU is now in the process of destroying and replacing.

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Brittany dorm room, as advertised on the NYU website

Sadly, the removal of this key detail of this historic building is not prohibited by landmarks regulations, as the Greenwich Village Historic District does not stretch to Broadway, or even to most of nearby University Place.  This is a grave omission on the part of the City which GVSHP seeks to have corrected.

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Historic (landmark) districts are in purple, while individually landmarked buildings, such as Grace Church, are noted with blue icons.  The Brittany, at 10th & Broadway, falls in between.

Though the law may allow this architectural desecration, that does not mean it’s the right thing for the NYU administration to do.  GVSHP has written to NYU President Sexton and urged him to reverse course, and use appropriate windows that respect the architecture of the Gothic style Brittany Hall.

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Which windows look right to you?

 If you want to urge NYU to maintain the historic integrity of this building, call their Community Affairs Office at 212-998-2402.

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Various views of the facade of the Brittany, with new and old windows, as NYU moves ahead with renovation

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Andrew Berman

Andrew Berman has been the Executive Director of GVSHP since 2002.

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3 comments on “NYU Renovation Tosses Architecture and History Out the Window
  1. Andrew Berman Olivier Hennesst says:

    Not surprising is an understatement. I am not sure why NYU intentionally destroys everything in their site. It might be that they just have zero taste, or maybe John Sexton wants to leave more than a legacy of destroying community but also for ugly architecture, And for that he certainly deserves a big bonus from the board of trustees. But serisously can anyone name a single buildig that NYU has put their hands on in the last 15 years which was done in good taste? They were always bad, but now they seem to intentionally hire expensive architects seemingly with the mandate to for low class, cheap ugly buildings possible. And under the administration of Michael Bloomberg who seems to only care about soda and real estate developers, and a city planner who is more interested in lookiing through her purse during city planning meetings ather than give the common courtesy to the community that is begging her not to destroy their neighborhoods, it is no wonder that NYU has carte blance to ruin everything they touch. So so shameful, so so iscouraging. Buyt its good to know that someday the cards will come tumbling down. Students will realize that NYU’s reputaion of being a good school is just that a empty reputation. Most corporations would want to be remembered for doing good, and building landmarks, but not NYU. John Sexton along with his pal Michael Bloomberg, Amanda Burden, Christine Quinn and Margaret Chin will be remembered for their utter disregard and disrepect for an entire community. Shameful

    • Andrew Berman Bill Johnson says:

      Yes what a sin it is to bring the building’s performance up to this century, damn them for giving the tenants air conditioning and pairing it with thermally efficient windows to match. Those monsters! Those lousy drafty windows with view interrupting panes panes are such an important part to this cities history! Shameful application of energy efficiency!

  2. Andrew Berman Randall says:

    Not surprised in the least, NYU has arbitrarily and systematically destroyed one landmark after the next, including the original character of Wash Sq Park starting around 1970 when that huge out of scale red monstrosity the Bobst Library went up, since then things have gone downhill and every time I see what their latest new destructive rant against some historic building is I have to wonder who is getting money under the table, kickbacks or stands to gain financially from allowing this institution to essentially take over and control Greenwich Village and now Wash Sq Park is basically theirs, moving the fountain and all by the Tisch family who gets their NAME on it just for moving it when it never needed to be moved shows how they OWN this park now and the residents and visitors to the park are just lowly peasants who don’t count.

    They need more dorms and space? fine, go to BROOKLYN- a short subway ride away, and start building on some VACANT LOTS there!
    These A-holes even destroyed a building that was in MY family years ago- on the ground floor of 85 W 3rd st was the well known “Bertolotti’s Restaurant” which had been there for many, many years.
    Time to tell NYU where to go!

1 Pings/Trackbacks for "NYU Renovation Tosses Architecture and History Out the Window"
  1. […] The Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation complains that “as part of an ongoing renovation of the 85 year old tower, NYU is ripping out the modern casement windows and replacing them with the blank, single pane ones. The new windows look like they were made for a spacecraft, or at best, a suburban office park, rather than a pre-war Gothic tower.” [Off the Grid] […]

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