Tuesday, April 16, 2019

Struggling with the Question of Compatibility

The owners of 211 Warren Street, who are planning to build a new structure on the footprint of the building that was demolished last October, met with the Historic Preservation Commission on Friday in a workshop session to discuss the design for the new building. The following renderings were presented to the HPC for consideration and discussion.

In the discussion of the proposed design, the word most often used by HPC members to describe it was jarring. HPC member John Schobel noted that the design of the building overall did an excellent job of achieving appropriate scale but suggested that "the steel element is going to look disruptive." Architect member Kate Johns agreed that adding the corten steel "makes it not compatible."

Elaborating on the subject of compatibility, Johns spoke about the need for differentiation to avoid slavish imitation of historic buildings and creating a kind of Disneyland but noted that the thinking about compatibility "is moving away from the idea that differentiation necessarily means modern." She cautioned that differentiation should not mean "incongruous appearance" or "ruptured integrity" and spoke of "continuity of character through time." She also suggested that the concern should not be for creating "architecture of our time" but for creating "architecture of place." She maintained that "Warren Street is not a place to make a statement." Schobel concurred, saying of Warren Street, "It's a place to apply our most rigorous standard of compatibility."

HPC chair Phil Forman started the discussion by saying, "Modern introduces a complexity because there is not a dictionary [of architectural style], yet there is still a sense of place," and later told his colleagues, "We don't have to take the code as a trap. There is room to interpret the sense of place." He expressed the opinion that, in terms of disrupting the streetscape, the proposed design was "nothing compared with the Polenbergs' orange house."

The workshop concluded with the applicants being asked by Forman to ruminate on what had been said and "come back with what you want." HPC member Hugh Biber asked, "Is there a way to come back with a few alternative solutions?" The applicants indicated they would be agreeable to that.


  1. Preservation of historic structures allows us to learn who the people were who came before us in a very authentic way. This was how they lived, this was what they considered visually pleasing. What is extraordinary about Hudson is that in less than an hour one can walk through the ideas of at least five generations of Hudsonians in a direct experience arguably more authentic than most books on the past. How can anyone who values preservation declare that the music of generations has stopped? What year was that and who are we to say it has ended? BTW the Polenbeg's orange house is disruptive and to my eyes beautiful. Modernity is not at odds with preservation it is a continuation of how each generation viewed life, Isn't that the point of keeping the past in our lives.

    the steel of the building proposal at 211 looks like the old hudson before there was any restoration. People did anything then, and didnt care.

  3. The corten steel thing is over used already.
    Banal bad boy modern architecture. Does not compliment surrounding community.

  4. Well done HPC. There's a fad for meaningless patches of contrasting materials on building facades, and I hope it never finds it's way to Hudson. Brooklyn is full of low quality new buildings that have this particular design feature and they look terrible

  5. What a bunch of fuddy-duddies. I like the design. It's refreshing, unusual and unique. Does it "fit?" Well, in the sense that the breadth of buildings on Warren are from nearly 300 years of American architectural heritage, why not? It's here, so it's American; it's a building that was designed by an architect, so it's arguably architecture. It's a reflection of an aesthetic and, as such, is valuable in the same way all art is. If we limit what we allow to be built to that which fits in with some continuity, then we'll end up living in Williamsburg (VA, not Brooklyn). If Hudson is to be a living museum of American architecture, we'd better be willing to permit some contemporary architects to ply their trade here.

  6. There is more tarmac, truck routes and parking lots in Hudson than Historic protected areas. North Side off of Warren, with a few exceptions in 4th and 5th wards, you can build anything, within NYS Building and Fire Code, Hudson Zoning and Planning Boards are very accommodating, depending on your $$ and connections around here any of those can be skirted around. Give them a inch, they'll take a mile. HPC has no teeth anyway. I'm glad there was some enforcement for as long as there has been, but every year it has become weaker and weaker, and it shows. It will go away faster and faster. I have seen so much destruction in other cities, and this is how it starts.
    Take the West Village. It was protected but money and greed and lack of soul has made it unrecognisable and continues to get worse.
    It started very slowly with an exception here and there, in a protected district and then it goes on fast forward. This house will represent dated design and materials from the early 1990's of American "architecture" built for some unknown reason in 2019. Put a plaque on it.

    1. I echo that sentiment. I have been shouting this from the rooftops since I arrived in Hudson in 2000. What people come here to see is historic architecture. One may go anywhere to see the new, ugly stuff. What we have(had) is beautiful, and should be maintained. We decry the loss of buildings, but continue to tear them down, willy-nilly. Give HPC teeth. Keep Hudson the historic town it has been. We are lucky to have what we have. Let's not destroy it with modern crap.

  7. Frankly I'm not a fan of rusted metal facades. Do a search of what rusted metal facades look like and make up your own mind.

  8. https://www.facebook.com/ArchitecturalRevivalMMXII/photos/a.415048655233202/2670719966332715/?type=3&theater