Occluded Sky, Okay: Landmarks Approves Extell’s Plan to Cantilever Nordstrom Tower Over Art Students League

The LPC concluded that the cantilever would detract from 215 West 57th Street.

The LPC concluded that the cantilever would not detract from 215 West 57th Street.

Despite strong community opposition, including that of the local community board, this afternoon the Landmarks Preservation Commission approved Extell’s request to cantilever its 1,424-foot skyscraper over the Art Students League.

The vote was six to one in favor of the application, which will allow Extell to cantilever its Smith + Gordon Gill-designed tower at 217 West 57th Street over the comparatively diminutive French Renaissance building next door. In their discussion before the vote, the LPC cited the minimal impact of the cantilever—which is some 290 feet high and not visible from all vantage points—on the experience of the landmark, as well as the building’s contextually-sensitive cladding.

“The height at which it [the cantilever] projects is taller than all the other buildings on the block,” said LPC chair Robert Tierney, asserting that the protrusion would not detract from the landmark’s’ contextual setting on the block. Though at the beginning of the discussion he chided the developer for not providing renderings that offered more robust site lines and comprehensive views of the project.

The limited renderings seemed yet another example of Extell emphasizing, as it has before, that the project is as-of-right and that the community should only consider the feature, the cantilever over a landmark, that requires their review. Despite the widespread feeling that the spate of skyscrapers rising along the 57th Street deserves broader community consideration—in the words of the Municipal Arts Society’s Ronda Wist, “We understand that as-of-right development gives developers and the public a certain level of certainty, but we believe that cumulative change of this magnitude should be carefully planned”—the LPC apparently agreed.

Landmarks approval clears the way for Extell to move forward with project, which will house New York’s first Nordstrom in its base and a hotel and luxury condos on the upper levels.

Extell president Gary Barnett said that he was pleased with the decision. “I think you can see it was very well-considered; landmarks agreed this would have little to no impact on the building,” he said.  “I’m excited to see this project move forward.”

Earlier this month, the commission also approved JDS’s request to build its SHoP-designed, 1,350-foot tower at 107 West 57th Street over the site of the landmarked Steinway building.

The lone dissenting vote Tuesday afternoon was Michael Goldblum.

The community, however, came out in droves to voice their opposition to the cantilever and to the rapidly-multiplying number of skyscrapers along the corridor.

“It is not appropriate to turn this landmark into a doorway for another building,” said Layla Law-Gisiko, the board member who attended the hearing on behalf of CB5. “All of our beloved buildings are going to be overshadowed by cantilevers.”

Ms. Law-Gisiko reiterated the community board’s request for a shadow study, more information on materials, mechanical equipment, lighting, traffic and transit improvements, as well a response to concerns about safety following the One57 crane incidents.

Landmarks West, the Historic Districts Council and the Society for the Architecture of the City also voiced their opposition to the cantilever: “Architecture exists in space and a small jewel by Hardenbergh deserves to hold its place, even on millionaire’s row,” declared Christabel Gough, the Society for Architecture’s secretary.

Supporters of the cantilever included the NY Hotel Trades Council, the American Institute of Architects NY, and the Art Students League, which will receive $25 million for allowing Extell to cantilever over its building, in addition to the $23.5 million that it already received for the sale of its air rights.

One overeager Nordstrom fan even came to voice her support, telling the LPC that it should approve the cantilever because “many of us have been waiting for a Nordstom for years!”

But Nordstrom spokesman Colin Johnson played down the retailer’s need for the cantilever after the vote, which has been often cited as the reason the element was essential to the design (the cantilever will reduce the need for columns in the Nordstrom store), telling The Observer that “ultimately, it was a design issue for the floors above us.”

Ms. Law-Gisiko said that she was disappointed with the decision: “We issued a denial that was not a punishing denial. We were really hoping to establish a dialogue with a developer who is building, and hopes to build more, in our community.”

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article stated that the dissenting vote was made by commissioner Christopher Moore. In fact, it was commissioner Michael Goldblum. The Observer regrets the error.