Last night the Historic Districts Council hosted an informational meeting between Sunnyside Gardens residents and the folks behind the Aluminaire House and eight-unit development proposal for the corner of 39th Avenue and 50th Street. Michael Schwarting, of Campani and Schwarting Architects, presented the proposal. Schwarting has been involved with the Aluminaire House for years — he heads the Aluminaire House Foundation with his wife, architect Frances Campani. The house, previously located at the New York Institute of Technology’s West Islip campus, was dissasembled and has been in storage since April 2012. As he expalined, “[The Aluminaire House] is rather small. It’s the same size as many units in Sunnyside Gardens.” The house measures 23 feet by 28 feet. It’s three stories tall with an upper deck. The Foundation would run the Aluminaire House as a private museum, showing it mainly by appointment. The home will have a caretaker and someone in charge of site maintenance. Schwarting did say there’s a possibility of opening the home to the public on certain days, as well as opening it up for community use. And while the house will hold archives concerning the history of the Aluminaire House, he also suggested the home could display an archival history of Sunnyside Gardens. Schwarting called the house a “sculptural element” for the neighborhood — “elegant, small, and a feature in the community.”
As for the surrounding residential building, it’s a two-story build with four ground-floor apartments and four upper-level apartments. Since the original proposal at the Community Board Landmarks Meeting, the architects have slightly altered the facade, moved some entrances, and added recessed balconies. There are private roof terraces for the upper floors and balconies and front yards for the lower units. All the units are two-bedroom apartments with straightforward floor plans. The architects plan to use terra cotta panels, which are a similar color to brick, for the facade. Apartment revenue will help fund the Aluminaire House Museum, although the architects have already secured a year of funding for the site. After the first year, the house will require around $50,000 a year to run.
Residents expressed a number of complaints and concerns for the proposal. One community member wondered if the Aluminaire House was so important, why a development had to go around it. The short answer: the Aluminaire House needs funding. The owner of the lot also wanted a housing development, and the lot is zoned for residential use. There were also many structural concerns about the Aluminaire House, and what would happen if it ever fell apart. Schwarting promised the home would be maintained — if it was ever badly damaged, they would rebuild the house or turn the space into a park. Another concern was the use of terra cotta panels instead of brick for the residential development. While Schwarting thought the terra cotta was a comparable material to brick (and he seemed to hint that the LPC agrees with him), a resident thought that by not using brick he was alienating the community, who may otherwise support the proposal. Finally, there were concerns of running a house museum and having enough funding to do so. Simeon Bankoff, the Executive Director of HDC, pointed out that funding is extremely difficult for house museums in the city not regularly open to the public.
The proposal heads to the full Community Board on the 19th, where testimony will be allowed, and then to the Landmarks Preservation Commission on September 24th. Bankoff said that he doubted the Commission would make an immediate decision, since the proposal is so complicated. But the architects have been in talks with the LPC on the proposal, which gives us the impression the LPC will ultimately approve the new placement of the Aluminaire House.
A Public Presentation on the Sunnyside Gardens HD Proposal This Thursday [Q'Stoner]
Sunnyside Park Proposal Is Heading to the LPC [Q'Stoner]
Architect Wants Aluminaire House to Be a Museum in Sunnyside Gardens [Q'Stoner]
Residents Oppose Sunnyside Gardens Move [Q'Stoner]