Oculus - Spring 2011 - (Page 33)
(above left) A sketch by Cavaglieri shows how the skylit main reading room of the Astor Library would become the Public Theater’s Anspacher Theater; note the two columns in the performing area stripped down to bare iron, while the others are carefully preserved. The entrance, lobby, and public spaces are now being upgraded and renovated by Ennead Architects. (above right) In transforming the Jefferson Market Courthouse into a public library, Cavaglieri juxtaposed unobtrusive modern elements, such as lighting and a bridge spanning the second-ﬂoor main reading room connecting third-ﬂoor administrative spaces, with the original Gothic windows and door trim.
Giorgio Cavaglieri, FAIA, completed two of his precedent-setting adaptive reuse projects
B Y J O H N M O R R I S DI XO N , FA IA
ew York architect Giorgio Cavaglieri, FAIA, made a major contribution to sustainability by elevating adaptive reuse to an art. Cavaglieri (1911– 2007) has been credited, in fact, with originating the term “adaptive reuse,” thus adding the conservation of resources to the motives behind preservation. Until the 1960s, architects generally accepted “remodeling” work only for lack of better commissions. As a refugee from Mussolini’s Italy setting up a practice in New York, Cavaglieri accepted low-profile renovation jobs as a matter of course. But in the 1960s he attracted international notice with his creative transformations of some Manhattan landmarks. A native of Venice with architecture and engineering degrees, Cavaglieri had some colorful experience before arriving in New York. While serving in the Italian army, he designed airfields in Libya. A decade later in the U.S. Army, he gained relevant experience by adapting captured German barracks for the Allied forces. In the 1950s, Cavaglieri was one of the first architects in the U.S. to join the preservation movement – then viewed by most of the profession as an obstacle to progress. He was a leader in the fights to save Penn Station and stave off threats to Grand Central. In 1963 he was elected president of the Municipal Art Society, and in 1970 president of the AIA New York Chapter. As Chapter president, he made a prescient environmental statement: “Architects, as professionals responsible for shaping the environment, must utilize their skills to reduce pollution through conservation of energy and through design and planning.”
Cavaglieri’s prime demonstrations of adaptive reuse occurred in the mid-1960s, when he was commissioned to convert the Jefferson Market Courthouse into a public library branch and the Astor Library into the home of Joseph Papp’s fledgling Public Theater. He had joined the effort to save the long-vacated courthouse, the city’s most prominent example of the High Victorian Gothic style. With its central position in Greenwich Village and its picturesque clock tower, the structure gained a strong following among area residents who prized its eccentricity and abhorred demolition. Cavaglieri’s transformation of it, completed in 1967, combined meticulous exterior restoration with the insertion of frankly Modern elements, such as a steel bridge spanning the double-height reading room. The dignified but low-profile Astor Library, built in stages between 1853 and 1881, had no such local constituency, but was one of the first structures saved from demolition by the city’s newly established Landmark Preservation Commission in 1965. Leaving the building’s exterior essentially intact, Cavaglieri fit a variety of performing and support spaces into its interiors, juxtaposing new insertions to preserved historical details. A tall reading room became the principal theater Newsweek called at its 1967 opening “the most delightful show-space in New York.’” In the 1970s, Cavaglieri adapted the Chapel of the Good Shepherd and the Blackwell Farmhouse for community uses as part of the development of Roosevelt Island. And he was the architect for several new and renovated public library branches. Rick Bell, FAIA, recalls that Cavaglieri, almost alone among architects doing such city work, had the courage to challenge the provisions of the city’s contracts for commissions of such complexity. Interviewed in 1999, Cavaglieri acknowledged that his Modern insertions into historic structures would never please “preservation purists.” But his insistence on clear distinctions between the preexisting and the new became the rule for adaptive reuse, enshrined in the widely applied Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. ■ John Morris Dixon, FAIA, left the drafting board for journalism in 1960 and was editor of Progressive Architecture from 1972 to 1996. He wrote the Midtown Manhattan portion of the original 1967 AIA Guide to New York City. In recent years he has written for Architectural Record, Architecture, Architect, and other publications.
Public Theater Archive
Design for a Change: Buildings, People, Energy
Spring 2011 Oculus
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Oculus - Spring 2011
Oculus - Spring 2011
A Word from the Editor
Center for Architecture
One Block Over
Opener: A Critique of Pure Sustainability
Testing Green Ideas
New Life for a Boomer Building
School Back in Session After 30-Year Recess
It Takes More Than a Village
What Every Architect Should Know About NYC’s New Energy Laws
Index to Advertisers
Oculus - Spring 2011
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