Architecture review: A downtown dormitory that lacks ambition

Pace's new student housing pales next to its inspiring neighbor
By James Gardner | November 16, 2012 11:00AM

As conceived by Sir Nicholas Grimshaw, the nearly completed Fulton Street Transit Center, officially known as the Fulton Center, promises to be one of the most imposing new buildings to arise in Manhattan in over a generation. The same, alas, cannot be said of 180 Broadway, a Pace University dormitory that is approaching completion just across from it at the corner of John Street. If the Fulton Center allows us to dream, to aspire, to hope that we might just live in a city where extraordinary things are possible, the Pace dormitory reminds us that, after all, this is still New York, where mediocrity reigns.

The already topped-out 24-story dorm, which is intended to house 600 students, was designed by Karl Fischer, an architect based in Montreal. Part of the school’s plan to place all of its students within five minutes walk of its main campus, opposite City Hall, the dormitory is scheduled to open next fall. In the part of the building that is to house the students, 180 Broadway is an ungainly mass of pale, formulaic brown brick that rises up in three bays on Broadway and seven on John Street. The first three floors, however, are to be clad in a glass curtain wall and are devoted to retail, with a thick accent of white stone — a hint of contextualism, of classicism — separating the two zones. One of the dormitory’s higher floor’s will be set aside for student activities and amenities.

The main problem with the building is that it seems entirely lacking in ambition. Other than that it is drearily dull, with respect to both the retail space on the first three floors and to the brick-clad shaft that account for the rest of it. The only drama the building affords is the manifest degree to which the two parts of the building seem to wish to have nothing to do with one another.

James Gardner is The Real Deal’s architecture critic