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New Design for NYC AIDS Memorial Clears Important Hurdle

A Manhattan community board has given the green light to Studio a+i’s new design for an AIDS memorial.

By Laura Mirviss
July 19, 2012
Image courtesy Studio a+i

New York City’s first large-scale monument to those affected by AIDS took one step closer to reality tonight, when Manhattan’s Community Board No. 2 approved the latest design for a $2-million, 1,600-square-foot memorial in Greenwich Village. The affirmation follows a months-long process that involved scrapping a preliminary design, downsizing the proposal to 10 percent of its initial size, and fielding community concerns about security and graffiti.

The approved proposal, designed by the Brooklyn-based firm Studio a+i, places the memorial on the westernmost tip of a 17,000-square-foot park across from the now-shuttered St. Vincent’s Hospital, where thousands of patients were treated during the height of the AIDS crisis. The design consists of a triangle-shaped, steel-and-wood pavilion that will be covered in evergreen plants and ivy. “The triangle is a strong symbol for the gay community, but it has different levels of interpretation,” says Studio a+i principal Mateo Paiva.

An oculus perforating the 18-foot-high canopy will deliver sunlight to a round reflecting pool underneath. The 11-foot-wide basin is raised 1.5 feet above the ground and is surrounded by granite pavers arranged in concentric circles and inscribed with quotations, texts, and reflections by artists, writers, and others affected by AIDS. “The underlying metaphor is of a dense forest grove and the visual impact created when trees are cut down and light streams in from the hole in the canopy,” says Christopher Tepper, the cofounder of the AIDS Memorial Park Coalition.

Studio a+i won a competition, sponsored by Architectural Record and Architizer, in January to design a memorial for the entire 17,000-square-foot park, which is owned by the Rudin Management Company. Their winning design, selected from a group of 474 entries, envisioned lining the perimeter of the park with 12-foot-tall slate walls with mirrors on the interior that would reflect a grove of trees. Rudin had hired landscape architects M. Paul Friedberg and Partners to design the park as one component in a plan to build condominiums on the St. Vincent’s site. Following negotiations between the developer and memorial supporters, Studio a+i scaled back its plan to the current size and redesigned the project. “We realized it was not about shrinking the same idea into a smaller space,” says Paiva. “We adapted to a whole new set of constraints and a whole new set of design parameters.”

New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn helped broker the agreement between the developer, memorial supporters, and neighborhood residents. “We’re very pleased this important project is moving forward and has received strong community support,” she said in a statement. “It has been inspiring to see how the community has come together in the creation of this historic and culturally significant memorial.”

The Community Board’s vote was praised by community advocates, many of whom lived in the neighborhood at the height of the AIDS crisis. Robert A. Woodworth, the director of capital projects for the Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center, says the memorial is the first step in a broader local tribute. “The original vision was to have a learning center within the park that goes beyond the memorial,” says Woodworth. “The narrative elements carved into the ground of the memorial are a good jumping off point.” The Community Center is a financial sponsor of the memorial.

The developer also praised the latest design, which not only honors those lost to AIDS, but also the staff members at St. Vincent’s who cared for them. “It will be a very fitting tribute,” said Eric Rudin, the president of Rudin Management, in a statement.

Following tonight’s approval, the proposal goes to the City Planning and Landmarks Preservation commissions, and both will vote on the design in October. If they approve it, the AIDS Memorial Coalition has until April, 2013, to raise 75 percent of the funding, according to an agreement worked out with the City Council and Rudin Management. The project is slated to break ground next summer and open in fall 2014.

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