Tag Archives: civic

Buffalo City Hall

Buffalo City Hall is the city’s most dramatic building. When built, it was among the largest, tallest and most expensive city halls in the country. But it’s the style and ornamentation that makes this structure so impressive.

From the richly carved granite base to the illuminated polychrome terra cotta crown, the soaring tower of limestone and sandstone is finely detailed to accentuate the skyscraper’s height and Buffalo’s place in history.

City fathers enlisted the talents of skilled artisans: Albert T. Stewart for the portico frieze; William de Leftwich Dodge for the lobby murals; René Chambellan for detail sculpture; Bryant Baker for bronze statues of Presidents Millard Fillmore and Grover Cleveland; ceiling vault by Rafael Guastavino.

Beyond Buffalo City Hall’s artistic merits, the landmark has some notable architectural features. Instead of merely cloning each floor, plans were customized to meet the needs of the city departments that were to occupy the spaces. All of the building’s 1,520 windows open inward, so they can be washed from the inside. Offices were originally cooled by a “green” wind-powered ventilation system: Large vents in the western facade channeled strong winds off Lake Erie through cool subterranean chambers and then back through the building.

Local lore pokes Buffalo politicians. Architect John Wade designed the Common Council Chamber with pillars, each to hold busts of famous Buffalonians. But Council members could not agree who was to be honored. Plan B emerged, to have each pillar display the virtues – such as Fidelity, Prudence, and Faithfulness – of Councilmen. Ever since, the public has asked why Honesty, Efficiency and Economy are missing.

Although City Hall is no longer Buffalo’s tallest building – it was overtaken by One Seneca Tower in 1970 – the 28th floor observation deck is still a favorite tourist stop. The city provides free tours of the building, daily at noon.

Buffalo City Hall Vital Statistics
Buffalo City Hall Recommended Reading

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Brooklyn Fire Department Headquarters

Brooklyn Fire Department Headquarters, “architecturally one of the finest buildings in Brooklyn,” has been restored to its 1892 magnificence. Amazingly, the downtown landmark was renovated without displacing tenants – and all 18 units of the formerly city-owned building were retained as “affordable housing.”

In his “Streetscapes” column, Christopher Gray notes that this building was Brooklyn’s answer to Manhattan’s Fire Department Headquarters (now the home of Engine 39/Ladder 16). After the City of Brooklyn became part of New York City in 1898, the headquarters functions shifted to Manhattan. The fire department used the building into the 1970s, then the city leased it to Polytechnic University. In 1989 the city converted the building to 18 apartments for low-income and senior residents.

After years of decay, the city launched a complex rehabilitation plan in 2013. As reported in The Brownstoner, the rehab involved The Pratt Area Community Council (PACC) as the developer, with financing from the City of New York (HPD), the Community Preservation Corp (CPC), and LISC (Local Initiatives Support Corporation). The project also received funding though Historic Preservation Tax Credits, and a grant through the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation. Nomad Architecture was the project architect, and the Historic Preservation Consultant was Thomas A. Fenniman, Architect. MDG Design & Construction was the development partner and the contractor.

The arched doorway no longer admits fire trucks, and the legend “FIRE HEAD-QUARTERS” has been replaced by terra cotta scrollwork. Otherwise, welcome back to 1892 and the City of Brooklyn.

Brooklyn Fire Department Headquarters Vital Statistics
Brooklyn Fire Department Headquarters Recommended Reading

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Bronx County Hall of Justice

Bronx County Hall of Justice reverses centuries of tradition: The aluminum and glass facades are designed for openness and transparency instead of monumental intimidation.

According to the architects, “The image of the courthouse in society was of primary concern in the design of the building. The program is organized in a linear manner around an open civic space and layered from public to private, with the public circulation, animated by a series of cantilevered stairs, facing the open space. Within the courtyard sets a free-standing public building that serves as the jury assembly room, gives scale to the space, and is the symbolic as well as formal focus of the project. The exterior wall design responds to the various functions within and orientations of the building. The curtain wall facing the south and west takes the shape of a folded plane with integrated light shelves that reflect light into the courtrooms and shade the adjacent corridor. The intent is to express the building as open and inviting, a metaphor for the transparency of the judicial process.”

The building is a dazzling contrast to the Bronx Criminal Court, next door, and the Bronx County Building (originally Bronx County Courthouse) at Grand Concourse, just two blocks west.

Despite its openness, the Hall of Justice was built with security in mind: The glass walls are bullet- and blast-resistant.

While the building’s design was exceptional, the construction was anything but. The construction site was contaminated, the low-bidding contractor was disqualified for suspected mob ties, the underground garage was deemed unsafe, and air conditioning for the court computers didn’t work. The four-year, $325 million project stretched accordion-like to six years and $421 million, opening in 2008.

Bronx County Hall of Justice Vital Statistics
Bronx County Hall of Justice Recommended Reading

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Bronx County Building

Bronx County Building (originally Bronx County Courthouse) is a monumental landmark of limestone and marble that blends modern and classical forms. It is made more prominent by its siting, raised on a granite podium between two parks – Joyce Kilmer Park to the north, Franz Sigel Park to the south.

The podium, most visible on the west and north facades, is functional: It contains a garage, among other things.

The design is symmetrical, each side almost identical except for the sculpture. A six-columned portico is centered on each side, flanked by a pair of pink marble sculpture groups. The north and south facades are broken by 13 lines of windows; the east and west facades have 15 bays. Polished copper spandrels separate the windows; the first-floor spandrels have nickel inlays.

The county’s judicial needs have outgrown the building – at one point the building was so crowded that there were reports of juries deliberating in storage rooms. Larger courts have since been built to the east on E 161st Street and to the north on Grand Concourse. The building now serves as the Bronx County municipal building.

Bronx County Building Vital Statistics
Bronx County Building Recommended Reading

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Edgewater Village Hall

Edgewater Village Hall is, in the words of the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission, “a superb example of Victorian architecture.” When built, the structure housed courts and other civic functions of the Village of Edgewater – long before Staten Island became part of New York City.

The windows and doors are exceptional. The paired ground-floor windows and doors have semicircular transoms under keystone arches. The second-story dormers are cut into the cornice line, and project out from the facade. Stained-glass transoms top the double-hung sashes.

Tappen Park, the building’s setting, was originally Washington Square. It was renamed in honor of World War I veteran James Tappen in 1934.

Edgewater Village Hall Vital Statistics
Edgewater Village Hall Recommended Reading

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Kingsborough Community College

Kingsborough Community College has three buildings with inventive, eye-catching forms. Alas, the older buildings lack the detailing and quality materials that would make them exceptional architecture.

The campus caught my eye when I was scanning Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach/Manhattan Beach area in Google Earth, for a class assignment.

The Robert J. Kibbee Library is named for a former Chancellor of City University. Leon M. Goldstein Performing Arts Center is named for a former President of the college. (There is also a Leon M. Goldstein High School for the Sciences adjoining the campus.)

(Photographers beware: The administration is super-sensitive about photos. No fewer than three campus police converged on me and my camera the morning of my shoot. Even after showing my school ID and assignment sheet, it took 90 minutes and a conversation with the school’s Events VP to get clearance. Throughout the day, campus police stopped to ask if I had permission to photograph.)

Kingsborough Community College Vital Statistics
Robert J. Kibbee Library
Administration Building / Leon M. Goldstein Performing Arts Center
Marine & Academic Center
Kingsborough Community College Recommended Reading

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Battery Park City

Battery Park City was built on landfill – the ground removed for the original World Trade Center excavations.

The architecture, naturally, is all new – post-1980. But the interesting part of Battery Park City is how its apartment and commercial buildings have been combined with green space: there really is a park in the middle of Battery Park City.

The Esplanade is the park’s backbone, running from Battery Place up to Chambers Street along the Hudson River. It is a link in the growing “Greenway” bike/pedestrian path along most of New York’s waterfront.

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Manhattan Civic Center

Lower Manhattan is a complex area, architecturally: some blocks fall within four overlapping districts, and individual buildings on a block might be classed Tribeca or Civic Center based on their use, as well as their location or architectural style.

This is an area packed with landmarks: The first skyscraper (Woolworth Building), only pre-Revolutionary War building (St. Paul’s Chapel), African Burial Ground, City Hall, Tweed Courthouse…

These photos were taken with the HDR technique; more photos (and captions) to come.

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New York Public Library

With Bryant Park at its back and ample space all around, it’s not just the jewel, it’s also the setting that makes The New York Public Library such standout architecture. (Fifth Avenue between 40th and 42nd Streets)

The site of the library and adjacent Bryant Park had been the Croton Distributing Reservoir. Bryant Park, incidentally, is a “green roof” for the library’s expanded (in 1980s) storage space.

The fascinating history of the New York Public Library system – and the main branch, Stephen A. Schwarzman Building – is at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/New_York_Public_Library.

The library is about to undergo massive internal changes – a circulating library is being installed in space now occupied by book stacks. (See articles by The New York Times and Wall Street Journal.)

New York Public Library Vital Statistics
  • Location: 476 Fifth Avenue between W 40th and W 42nd Streets
  • Year completed: 1911 (official opening)
  • Architect: Carrère and Hastings
  • Floors: 7
  • Style: Beaux Arts
  • New York City Landmark: 1967 (exterior), 1974 (interior)
  • National Register of Historic Places: 1965
New York Public Library Suggested Reading

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Jefferson Market Courthouse

Jefferson Market Courthouse (bounded by Sixth Avenue, Greenwich Avenue and W 10th Street) was completed in 1874, designed by Frederick Clarke Withers. The former Third Judicial District Courthouse is now the Jefferson Market branch of the New York Public Library.

The style is American High Victorian Gothic, faced in red brick with black brick and yellow Ohio sandstone trim. The sculpture in the pediment depicts the trial scene from “The Merchant of Venice.” The clock/bell tower originally served also as a fire watch tower (the stairstepped tower windows reveal a spiral staircase within).

The court moved out in 1958; local preservationists campaigned to have the building saved as a library, and the New York Public Library agreed in 1961. The building reopened in 1967.

Source: “Guide to New York City Landmarks, Fourth Edition,” New York City Landmarks Preservation Commission.

This is where Harry Thaw was tried for the assassination of prominent architect Stanford White. Coincidentally, White’s firm – McKim, Mead and White – designed 11 branches of the New York Public Library.

Jefferson Market Courthouse Vital Statistics
  • Location: 425 Sixth Avenue at W 10th Street
  • Year completed: 1874
  • Architect: Frederick Clarke Withers
  • Floors: 6
  • Style: American High Victorian Gothic
  • New York City Landmark: 1969 (part of Greenwich Village Historic District)
  • National Register of Historic Places: 1972
Jefferson Market Courthouse Suggested Reading

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