The Great Wall of Kaufman is nearing completion, with the topping-out of the new Cambria Suites Hotel, at 125 West 28th Street. The building stands 18 stories tall and completes a trio of Kaufman-designed projects on the street, all of which are occupied by cost-conscious hotels.
Taken as individuals, the buildings are completely out of character with the surrounding neighborhood, employing budget-oriented facades that contrast negatively with surrounding architecture, which is resoundingly pre-war and overwhelmingly high-quality; still, the modernization of the neighborhood is important, as is the satiation of demand for new hotel rooms. Faulting Kaufman for accommodating developers’ wishes is not entirely reasonable, given his services are conscripted; ultimately it is the city that is to blame, as it has neglected mandates for street-walls and the preservation of historic facades.
The gradual transformation of northern Chelsea into a neighborhood dominated by these budget hotels is becoming especially evident on 28th Street, as the new buildings have literally formed a wall of mediocrity; these developments are symptoms of greater problems with the city’s zoning code, and without reform, the devastation will continue. That’s not to say pre-war buildings should be preserved for the sake of their age; the individual aesthetics of each structure should be considered and even then, adaptive re-use and demolition of antiquated, pest-infested, and obsolete interiors should be allowed and encouraged.
Besides the Great Wall of Kaufman, another Holiday Inn exists on the southern side of the block, and yet another Kaufman is located on the northern side of 29th Street. The takeover is happening slowly, but soon enough, Kaufman’s work will be the most dominant of any architect in the neighborhood. It is up to the city to change the zoning codes to address this aesthetic tragedy – up-zoning to allow for increased hotel space is a definite must, in addition to mandating the preservation of aesthetically fortunate pre-war facades. If these changes do not occur, The Great Wall of Kaufman will become the Great Neighborhood of Kaufman – and if that happens, the character that brings tourists to New York in the first place may be the ultimate casualty.