Washington Square Park redo a hit: architecture review

Five-year renovation complete -- and the Greenwich Village landmark has never looked better

New York /
Apr.April 21, 2014 12:30 PM

One of the most pleasant surprises of this young spring season is the recently unveiled revision of the southwest quadrant of Washington Square Park. After five years of staggered renovations, a largely new and re-imagined park finally stands revealed.

The 1970s grittiness, some would say the sleaze, has departed and in its place is one of the finest small parks in the city, 10 acres of congenial and harmonious public space. Complaints have been raised about creeping gentrification and the police presence in the area. But based on what I saw there last weekend, it doesn’t appear that the storied bohemian vitality of the Greenwich Village landmark has been in any way diminished.

Granted, I could do without the snow fences that seem, each year, to close off the lawns the moment the weather improves enough for people actually to consider sitting on them. But on the whole, the renovations to the park have been a signal success, especially when it is approached from the corner of West 4th Street and Washington Square South. The chess hustlers are still there and the mounds — those controversial mounds that the locals fought so hard to preserve — are there as well, converted into a lovely lawn integrated with a playground that was getting a great deal of business the last time I passed.

One of the best parts of the renovation is a one-story structure, with a parabolic footprint, that interacts masterfully with its newly landscaped surroundings and that replaces a series of sheds that once occupied that area. It is the work of the prolific local firm of BKSK Architects.

This building will contain “comfort stations” as well as sundry rooms for the park’s staff. According to one official cited here,there are some discussions about the NYPD’s occupying it as well, though there does not seem to be any truth to the rumors that it will contain holding cells. According to one official cited here,there are some discussions about the NYPD’s occupying it as well, though there does not seem to be any truth to the rumors that it will contain holding cells.

If it does, it will surely be one of the most charming jails in Manhattan. A surprisingly sensitive use of modern architecture, with just a touch of contextualism, this new structure is confected of slate bays and paired pillars, mullioned windows and a wooden roof that greatly aids in the building’s integration into the park context. And the landscaping of the paths that skirt the building’s entrances is downright distinguished.

Washington Square Park has never looked better.


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