Columbus Circle

With the completion of the Time Warner Center and renovations to the monument and circle itself, the Columbus Circle area of midtown Manhattan is quickly growing into its own small neighborhood. The area, which runs between 54th Street and 63rd Street and between Broadway and West End Avenue, is seeing significant growth in luxury condominium and apartment development in addition to the new retail and cultural attractions. One of the most significant new developments on Columbus Circle is the restoration of 2 Columbus Circle.

Located on the southwest side of the circle, 2 Columbus Circle, is the new home of the Museum of Arts and Design after two decades of contentious opposition from some in the preservation community. At concern was the significant redesign of a building designed in 1964 by Edward Durell Stone and known by many as the Lollipop Building because of its ground-level white columns topped with black discs (other prominent works by Stone include the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC).

In 1996, two years after the building became eligible for landmark status, the City’s Landmark Preservation Commission (LPC) opted not to consider it for landmark designation. This decision alone has sparked a significant debate within the preservation community. Despite urging from several groups, the LPC never formally considered the building for landmarking.

The building was originally constructed for the Huntington’s Hartford Gallery of Modern Art. In 1980, the building was given to the City of New York and was used as office space for the Department of Cultural Affairs and visitor’s center till 1998. In 2002, the City’s Economic Development Corporation (EDC) awarded the building to the Museum of Arts and Design for $17 million although the sale was not finalized till 2005. Brad Cloepfil was selected to redesign the building in 2002 after a competition was held by the Museum.

The new design, which cost about $90 million to construct, retains some elements of the original design, including the height of the building, its curve around the circle, and some of the “lollipop” columns. Despite these small resemblances, the interior and exterior are strikingly different from the original. For instance, the façade of the building has been replaced by 22,000 terra cotta tiles. Cloepfil’s intended to bring light into the gallery spaces while offering views of Central Park and Columbus Circle.

A lawsuit was filed shortly after the sale to the Museum by three preservation groups (Preservation West, the Historic District Council, and Docomomo) who claimed that the City did not properly account for the historic nature of the building before awarding the redevelopment of it to the Museum of Arts and Design and who objected to the environmental review allowing for the transfer. Several lawsuits were filed in an attempt to stop the remaking of the 1964-building including at least eight lawsuits by the group Preservation West.

Kate Wood, Executive Direct of Preservation West, was quoted in the New York Times in October 2005 as saying, “This has been the focus of one of the most important preservation battles in history…and could well become the Penn Station of Modernism,” referring to the demolition of the original Penn Station, which has been cited as the start of the preservation movement in New York City. Ironically, many spoke out against the design of the original building which they later protested changing.

Despite support from several preservation groups, other community members and notables, including Thomas Wolfe and Robert A. M. Stern, the Museum of Arts and Design, and the City defeated the lawsuits. Construction officially began in the Fall of 2005 after the Department of Buildings issued a permit for construction effectively allowing for the removal of the original façade of the building a few months earlier. The building opened in September 2008.

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