by Carl Yost
On a crisp weekday evening, a dozen architecture enthusiasts gathered at the Center for Architecture for “Reading the Streetscape: Bleecker Street” – a walking tour of Greenwich Village history hosted by the Center for Architecture Foundation (CFAF). “This is sort of an Architecture 101,” said Tim Hayduk, CFAF lead design educator and tour guide, at the outset. “It’s almost a vertical archaeology, with layer upon layer of construction.”
In the fast-fading autumn light, Hayduk pointed out architectural features that evoke the neighborhood’s history. Mismatched brickwork, a visible steel crossbeam, turnbuckles, and an added floor on 145-149 Bleecker Street showed how the original 1830s buildings were expanded and reinforced to make way for new residents.
As Greenwich Village’s fortunes declined in the late 1800s, it teemed with new immigrants from Italy, and reformers began instituting policies to ensure city residents’ health. For instance, the block-wide, white-brick behemoth at 160 Bleecker, designed by Ernest Flagg and completed in 1910 as a men’s hotel, included massive courtyards to bring light and air to all bedrooms.
After a quick stop to examine the harlequin-colored row houses of the MacDougal-Sullivan Gardens Historic District, Hayduk transitioned into the modern era of urban renewal. As darkness fell, the tour ended on the quiet, almost suburban lawn at the center of I.M. Pei’s 1967 Silver Towers complex, a pinwheel of three Brutalist concrete towers.
Afterward, the group retired to the Center for Architecture to warm up with drinks and snacks, while Hayduk considered the neighborhood’s future. He showed renderings of NYU’s proposed construction in Greenwich Village – changes that were met with mixed reactions – and discussed the potential landmarking of the South Village Historic District, which would include the Center’s home at 536 LaGuardia Place.
“This is history,” Hayduk said of the proposals. “It is happening. It’s a very exciting moment for the neighborhood.”
The Center for Architecture Foundation will host its final tour of the fall on 11.16.13, with a focus on the cast-iron architecture of SoHo.
Carl Yost is a communications manager for NBBJ. He has written for Forbes, Architectural Record, and The Architect’s Newspaper, among other publications.
Event: Reading the Streetscape: Bleecker Street
Location: Center for Architecture, 09.17.13
Speaker: Tim Hayduk, Lead Design Educator, Center for Architecture Foundation
Organizer: Center for Architecture Foundation