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Superblock Sleuthing

“Superblock” is a term that we have been hearing more and more with the publication of the NYU 2031 Plan and its roadmap for massive additional development on two of the city’s most prominent and historic superblocks- Silver Towers and Washington Square Village.  The University is asking zoning and urban renewal deed restrictions to be lifted so they can shoehorn enormous new buildings within the public green space of the Washington Square Village complex that houses NYU faculty as well as long-time neighborhood residents.  Let’s take a look back at this site’s history….

L: exterior of Washington Square Village; R: Sasaki Garden in the center of the complex (image courtesy of Georgia Silvera Seamans, localecology.org)

An image of the WSV groundbreaking from May of 1958. Courtesy of GVSHP's William Eppes Collection

Comprised of roughly 1,290 units , Washington Square Village is made up of two 17-story parallel slab buildings that follow the tower-in-the-park model made popular by Le Corbusier in the 1920s .  By the middle of the century in New York City, a man named Robert Moses was well aware of the ideas of Le Corbusier and saw them as an effective way to enact “slum clearance.”  Although the area around Washington Square Park was never what one thinks of as a traditional “slum”, it was an area dense with working class families, a characteristic Robert Moses saw as undesirable.

In 1956, Robert Moses acquired three city blocks bound by West 3rd Street, Bleecker Street, Mercer Street, and LaGuardia Place (Wooster and Greene Streets would have originally continued through the center) for his Washington Square Southeast Title I project, as it was originally called.  It was constructed to house middle-class families and designed by Paul Lester Wiener of S.J. Kessler & Sons Architects (a firm that had previously worked with Moses on Title I Slum Clearance projects).  As stated in the 2007 Resource Evaluation for the State & National Register, “the towers are notable for their vibrant blue, yellow, and red glazed brickwork that contrasts with the field of grey glazed brick.  Corbusian influences are shown by the sculptural elements hiding mechanical equipment on the roof and the pilotis forms at the base.”  The buildings are separated by the Sasaki Garden, which sits atop a 650-car underground parking garage.  Designed by the firm of Sasaki, Walker, and Associates, this 1 ½-acre garden was one of the first parking structure roof gardens in the country.  In addition, there is a commercial strip on LaGuardia Place and a children’s playground on the east side of the central plaza.

In 1963, the Washington Square Development Corporation, headed by Paul Tishman and Morton S. Wolfe, fell into financial troubles and NYU purchased the Washington Square Village site from them and remain the owners today.  Please CLICK HERE for more information on how you get involved in opposing NYU’s massive expansion plan for the Village that would greatly affect Washington Square Village.

NYU's proposals for Washington Square Village


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