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