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Carter's View

The Landmarks Preservation Commission held a hearing today on a 19-story residential condominium building planned for 241 Fifth Avenue on a site now occupied by a four-story, pink-granite-and-reflective glass commercial building that was erected in 1968.

The commission did not make a decision but many of its commissioners said they found the project "intriguing" and interesting.

The developer is 241 5th Ave., LLC, of which Avraham Sibony is a principal. The building is planned to have 76 apartments.

The quite bold design by Perkins Eastman employs four materials: a "rainscreen" terracotta system, an opaque baked and painted glass, clear glass and silver-colored metal panel coping.

The building has a symmetrical facade on the avenue but an asymmetrical facade on its south "party" wall, which has considerable exposure.

In addition, it "floats" its setback upper floors in a form that a couple of commissioners described by "Cubist."

The mid-block building is located between 27th and 28th Streets and Eran Chen of Perkins Eastman told the commission that its design attempts to make a meaningful transition between a higher building just to its north and the 7-story building just to its south and the 5-story Museum of Sex on the northeast corner at 27th Street.

The property falls within the Madison Avenue North Historic District.

The building rises 14-stories, then has a setback for one floor and the remainder of the top of the building is cantilevered 6 feet forward towards Fifth Avenue. The building is 210 feet tall, not counting an elevator and staircase housing on the roof that adds an additional 8 feet or so.

The Fifth Avenue facade is "regular," he continued, but the south facade has a staggered fenestration pattern in part reflecting regulations about "lot-line windows" that limit the number of windows above adjoining buildings on a gradual basis.

The land-use committee of Community Board 5 voted 5 to 1 earlier this month to deny approval the application. Joyce Matz, the chairman of the committee, said that this design was "certainly not compatible with the historic district."

Simeon Bankoff, executive director of the Historic Districts Council, told the commission today that "The typical building in the historic district is characteristically commercial and regular in facade rhythm." "We are not opposed to contemporary architectural vision, but this has to have a logic and strength of character to make the expression comprehensible. This building does not exhibit that character, and instead references a number of distinctly residential flourishes which are out of place in the district," he maintained.

Many of the most famous commercial buildings in the area, however, are in the process of being converted to residential uses such as the MetLife Tower at 1 Madison Avenue, the International Toy Center at 200 Fifth Avenue and 1107 Broadway, and the Gift Building at 225 Fifth Avenue and there are several conversions also progressing nearby on Madison Avenue.

"The top box seems feather-light compared to the base?.A massing suggestion that might aid this design, would be the inclusion of another setback towards the top to help generate a profile more characteristic of the neighborhood," Mr. Bankoff said.

Commissioner Jan Pokorny said that the design was "terrific." Commissioner Thomas Pike said it gave him "a very positive feeling" and was "on the right path," adding that the vertical supports for the top floors needed to be "more solid" and that the base needed more "depth." Commissioner Roberta Brandes Gratz said she liked "the Cube." Commissioner Richard Olcott said he found the design "quite intriguing" and "lively" and that "it seems like the building wishes it was not standing at mid-block." Commissioner Stephen Brynes found the "vaporization" of windows on the south facade "provocative."
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Architecture Critic Carter Horsley Since 1997, Carter B. Horsley has been the editorial director of CityRealty. He began his journalistic career at The New York Times in 1961 where he spent 26 years as a reporter specializing in real estate & architectural news. In 1987, he became the architecture critic and real estate editor of The New York Post.