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Deal Reached in AIDS Memorial Dispute

March 15, 2012

By C. J. Hughes

AIDS Memorial Park
Image by Guillaume Paturel/Courtesy Studio a+i
Studio a+i’s concept for an AIDS memorial in Manhattan’s Greenwich Village will be scaled down to less than one tenth of the size envisioned by supporters.

 

AIDS Memorial Park
Photo © Helene Silverman

The AIDS Memorial is now slated to occupy 1,600 square feet of a 17,000-square-foot triangle bounded by Seventh Avenue, 12th Street, and Greenwich Avenue

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After several weeks of intensive negotiations, a deal has been reached to create the first-ever large-scale AIDS memorial in New York City, though it will be much smaller than its supporters had initially hoped.

Those supporters had wanted the memorial to take up an entire unused triangular parcel totaling 17,000 square feet in Greenwich Village, across from the former St. Vincent’s Hospital. The hospital was one of the first in the nation to offer HIV/AIDS treatment.

After a highly-publicized competition organized by the AIDS Memorial Park Coalition (with media sponsors Architectural Record and Architizer) a design from Brooklyn’s Studio a+i was selected by a jury that included Michael Arad, designer of the National September 11 Memorial and actress Whoopi Goldberg. The winning scheme, chosen over 474 other entries, called for enclosing a park planted with birch trees with 12-foot-high walls, mirrored on the inside and clad in slate on the exterior.

But property owner Rudin Management Company, which had previously offered to build a park there as part of a controversial plan to construct a condo complex on the site of St. Vincent’s, had a different vision for the Seventh Avenue space.

Rudin’s version, designed by landscape architects M. Paul Friedberg and Partners, called for a more conventional city park, with a lawn, chess tables, and metal perimeter fence. The scheme permitted space for commemorative markers.

Under the new deal, announced on March 14 by the city, the park will include an AIDS memorial, but it will be confined to a 1,600-square-foot parcel at the westernmost tip—less than a tenth of the size its supporters had envisioned.

The park will also include other tributes to those served by the 160-year-old hospital, including victims of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and much earlier, survivors of the sinking of the Titanic.

Community opposition to Studio a+i’s design hurt its realization, according to those involved in the negotiations. Some neighbors were worried that the mirrored walls would be defaced by graffiti; others were concerned about birds crashing into them. Some residents, on the other hand, strongly supported it, says Christopher Tepper, a co-founder of the AIDS Memorial Park Coalition.

But the mirrors may not go away just yet. Tepper hopes some aspect of them can be salvaged for the scaled-down memorial. Their reflective surfaces “symbolize the ongoing nature of the AIDS epidemic and that it affected such a diverse group of people,” he says. Asked about Studio a+i’s future involvement, Tepper replies ,“ Studio a+i’s plan is a strong starting point, but we’re not committing to that. We will be carefully working with the community to figure out what makes sense for the site.” Studio a+i had no comment. The revised design is expected to be completed by July, according to those involved with the project. The park will open in 2015.

For their part, Rudin officials declined to comment on the criticisms of the original memorial but said they were glad both sides had worked out their differences. “It has always been our goal and intention to commemorate the good work of St. Vincent’s Hospital,” said John Gilbert, Rudin’s chief operating officer. “We feel strongly that the final product will accomplish this goal.” The March 14 deal, announced by the Land Use Committee of the City Council also called for Rudin’s reducing the scale of its $900 million residential project to 350 units, from 450, and to 95 parking spaces, from 152. A 24-hour healthcare center will also be built at the site, though many neighbors wanted a full-service hospital to return. In a move seemingly made to appease critics, the City Council said on March 14 that it would also build a new middle school nearby.

The plan, which requires rezoning, still must get final approval from the full City Council, the Planning Commission, and the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Passage is expected by the end of March.

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