Time Puts Its Stamp on South 4th Street

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When we first moved to Brooklyn in 2003, we lived in the upper duplex of the yellow house on the far left of the top photo. We stayed there for two years; the second year was when we were doing the renovations on our newly purchased house in Clinton Hill. When we lived on the block, neither the heinous new building in the top photo or the super-modern building in the second photo existed. We walked down the street a couple of weeks ago for the first time and struck by both of them. While we hope there’s some utilitarian reason for the tiny windows in the latter, we find it interesting; the former has no business ever having been built. Anyone like the modern one?
99 South 4th Street: GMAP DOB
107 South 4th Street: GMAP DOB

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  • Um, the modern one is original and the quality seems to be good, but emotionally it has a kind of unpleasant Darth Vader-ish aspect. Maybe because it looks like a face.

  • it is crazy how the landscape changes. when i first moved to nyc i lived on ludlow street on the LES (almost 8 years ago) and going back and looking at that street is like night and day, architecturally and culturally.

    nyc is a fast paced environment. to lament the fact that it changes so fast flies in the face of why someone likes nyc in the first place. yeah new buildings are fugly at first, but dirt, grime, and crime eventually find their way onto it and it looks old again.

    all of the new buildings on layfayette in soho looked SO out of place to me in 2001 and ugly. now they are weathered and look totally in place. you get used to it, and new buildings ingratiate themselves in their immediate environment. such is life.

    i like these kinds of threads tho, i love seeing what was there before what is there is there now. in 100 years something else will be there and someone will be lamenting the loss of a beautiful old building.

    *rob*

  • i wish google streetview had better pix, but i really like the (latter) modern building.

    methinks the small windows in front are for street noise attenuation, with probably huge floor to ceiling windows for the backyard. i’ve seen a lot of modern buildings (like the 14 Townhouses on State St.) that have an almost-complete glass curtain wall in back.

    is that a showroom on the ground floor? or a garage?

  • That new mod building gives me the willies. Kinda reminds me of a big grey stormtrooper helmet from Star Wars.

  • As for the first building, at least it’s better than a Fedders, at least they tried with the windows a little bit. But I don’t understand – couldn’t they have made it the same height as the surrounding buildings, with taller ceilings inside? And yeah, more windows and better windows. In this neighborhood, they’d sell it for a lot more, so the margins would be the same. Or maybe even better. Well, I hope. I mean, it doesn’t take a genius.

  • The lower grey building is rather Cylon-like, but preferable to the upper buildings because it at least makes a design statement. I’m not thrilled with it, contexturally, but would rather have that on a block than the tiny windowed Fedders building. I bet the back is spectacular with a sheet of windows. At least, I hope so, or else this bunker would be as dark as a cave most of the time.

  • The mod building has the feel of a mausoleum for vampires…
    and the other, well, it’s just plain tacky.

  • The former looks like a slot machine if you rotate your view 90 degrees. The latter looks like a modern mob social club or a South Beach hotel.

    Can anyone identify the closest attempt in the city at replicating a bonafide brownstone? Seems architecturally simple exterior-wise but I havn’t seen it.

    ***Bid half off peak comps***

  • You can check out some of the interior features for 107 south 4th at http://www.standardarchitects.com/projects/0520.html#

  • Yes, I like the modern one. I would need more windows to live there but think it manages to be original while fitting in with its surroundings.

  • Biff Champion

    In addition to possibly having large windows at the back, I’m guessing the modern building also has a large skylight or two, which seems to be more and more common in new buildings and renos. That would provide a lot of additional light, especially if it is an open concept layout inside.

  • Havemeyer

    Funny, I took pictures of these a while back because I was struck by the contrast too. The modern building has a garage, or open-air driveway behind that honeycombed mesh. (When I walked by there was a car parked inside) The effect really made me think about how the new modern architecture is quite close to the old, grim soviet bloc-like architecture. It looks designed enough to make me think someone did it all on purpose, and I’m sure the interior is fabulous, but it is pretty grim. All of the elements that face the street together — small windows, secure car parking — make it look like the inhabitants are scared of their neighbors.

    The Fedders building may actually weather the times better, I think. It needs some ivy or something, but mostly just reminds me of a lot of the buildings in Italian Williamsburg (which this is not). If the brick was darker it’d almost blend into the block.

  • exactly biff, and seriously who wants nosey neighbors looking into your house anyway!? much better to have open viewing access to space aliens from above!

    *rob*

  • Kensingtonian

    Mostly agree with everyoneo so far the modern one. I like the way it looks but I hate small windows and if the back has glass-wall style windows, I dig the design.

  • One wonders why as a society we have lost all talent for designing small urban buildings. Both of these specimens are poor reflections of the architectural profession. The more modern one is humorous as it looks like a reduced, squeezed verison of the Whitney musuem on Park Avenue.
    It is the Whitney’s evil “Mini Me”.

  • Biff Champion

    eastriverman, nice link. Looks like we were right about the large windows at the back and the skylights. I still am not crazy about the tiny windows in the front. One of the bedrooms in the pics seems very jail cell-like.

  • Brenda from Flatbush

    I think the new one looks like Gort from the original ‘Day the Earth Stood Still!’ Rays could shoot out of that window-slit!

  • Montrose – your Cylon reference elevates you in my mind – best show ever.

    The building – its horrible – at least a Fedders building looks like a residential building – this looks like a subway vent with a parking spot.

  • the cylons have an expression that applies to the fedders building: “all of this has happened before. and it will happen again.”

  • What is that weird white keyslot of a thing? It does look like a false entry from an ancient Egytian tomb. It is appalling. I’m sorry. I disagree with rob, in twenty or fifty or a hundred years nobody is going to think these buildings are beautiful. They may think they are interesting curiosities from a time when architects forgot how to design, but that would be about it.

  • OK, after looking at the link, I’m not thrilled. It’s very futuristic and sleek, but also very cold, very grey and hard. It looks like the air conditioning is blasting on full, 24/7, and backing into a concrete wall could be fatal to your health, as you’d stick to it and freeze.

    If they had built the Fedders building the same height as the others on the block, and put some decent windows in, instead of those portholes and tiny bays, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.

  • The interior of the Cylon building has some interesting design choices. Here there appears to be a glass floor:

    http://www.standardarchitects.com/projects/art/0520-4.jpg

    Great upskirt opportunities.

  • BrooklynButler

    They are both ugly and wrong for the block, but for different reasons.

  • One final comment, from looking at these new buildings, an alien would think that the price of window glass has become prohibitive. Look at how ungenerous the modern windows are compared to the historic ones.

  • fsrq, the finale left a lot to be desired, but otherwise, I agree.

    I think the owners should rig up a travelling red light crossing the small horizontal windows on the top floor.

  • “I think the owners should rig up a travelling red light crossing the small horizontal windows on the top floor.”

    this is the best idea i have ever heard.

  • both pretty bad.

    anyone have examples of smaller new construction buildings that you guys think are acceptable?

    The only new building it seems people like is Toren.

  • quote:

    I disagree with rob, in twenty or fifty or a hundred years nobody is going to think these buildings are beautiful. They may think they are interesting curiosities from a time when architects forgot how to design, but that would be about it.

    uh you do realize that for many years brownstoners were considered ugly and low rent, right?

    *rob*

  • whoa i mean brownSTONES. !

    *rob*

  • OT: wow,THREE BSG fans! Finale was Terrible! [hey what about an OT discussion?]

    The Brutalist horror can have all the windows and skylights it wants, but there’s no way it could not be dark in the lower floors. What a stupid design. While I am not at all enslaved by history, there’s a reason for windows.

  • but they would also need that creepy cylon sound effect as well.

    I liked the ending – after wasting (i mean investing) all that time watching – its nice to finally have a show with some closure – maybe not as “artistic” or as well thought-out as the series as a whole but a real ending for a change (at least until someone decides to make a movie)

  • cmu, going there now….

  • Rob, brownstones were thought of as passe, which is different than ugly. When they were built, people thought they were gorgeous and they were widely admired. And even in the darklest days of the 1950′s and 60′s brownstones had admirers in many neighborhoods.

  • eastriver’s link says the bottom floor isn’t just a garage but also an artist’s studio.

    i also don’t get the very minimal windows on the front, but who knows? maybe the owner is an artist who works at night and wanted a dark, quiet space to sleep at night. also, a quick look at google maps suggests that across the street is a not-too-beautiful garage and a boring industrial (?) building whereas behind the house is a playground and a lot of open space. i could see wanting to emphasize the back view over the front. regardless of the cost of windows, if you’re going to have one curtain of glass, i could see efficiency (and interior design) reasons for needing a basically solid surface on the other side.

  • sorry, i meant maybe the artist needs to sleep during the day.

  • Havemeyer

    Well, they’re parking their car there, which sort of destroys the “open studio” concept.

    I see what you’re saying, idisagree, but that doesn’t make it look less like a garage and the building less like a bunker.

  • cmu, MM- I’ll meet you over there too. Loved the show- felt cheated by the finale.

  • BHO – for “modern brownstone” examples – what about the State Street townhouses, between Smith and Hoyt. Kind of plain. Almost blah, really. But it’s the “first block of single family rowhouses built in Brooklyn in a century” or some shit like that.

  • All the people saying the practically non-existent front windows are ok because the back windows are huge are missing something. The concept of eyes on the street. It’s what makes Brooklyn a community. Think of what it would feel like walking down that street if every house had little or no windows…just garage doors and and big, concrete, bunker walls. It wouldn’t feel safe, it would feel desolate and uninviting.

  • actually i think that would be kinda cool.

    *rob*

  • Are we really supposed to worry about what people 100 years from now are going to think? I wouldn’t. Architecture can be as much personal expression and built to please one person, whether the client or architect, as any other kind of design. As for what people did 100 years ago, uh, yes actually lots of people built one-of-a-kind houses according to their own tastes that others didn’t necessarily like. Look at the famous pagoda house in Ditmas Park as one example. The person who built that house, you can bet they thought all the rows of brownstones elsewhere in Brooklyn were too boring to live in!

    Anyway, I like the modern building. I like that white color with the gray concrete. And I like the tall narrow doorway. It’s like a greek column, an echo of antiquity. I understand small windows in front (with all glass in back) as it makes sense for privacy in a house in a big city sitting directly on the street where all can peer in. But the bands of low windows do look darth vadar esque. I like low narrow windows on 50′s/60′s modern houses, the ones with wood frames that open from the top. Those would be great to use on a house like this.

  • I just googled the State St. townhouses and they are so lovely and intriguing. I wonder what the cost and profit was on them? Also Habitat for Humanity built some very nice houses on the corner of Throop and Halsey in Bed Stuy. They look much better in person than in the photos. I wonder what architects would say if they read this thread.

  • I posted about these exact same buildings last week on WPA (http://www.wgpa.us/2009/04/99_south_4th.html). Hate the short one, really like the ultra-modern one (though it works much better in person than it does in photo). Also very nice at night.

    The rear of the building (which you can see from the playground on South 3rd Street) is much glassier – in addition to privacy on the street side, there is an environmental reason for this, as the street facade faces south, and there is not much to the south to block the sun. It also allows for much light for the artist.

    The little porthole is just plain hideous. Even worse in person.

  • Montrose – “If they had built the Fedders building the same height as the others on the block, and put some decent windows in, instead of those portholes and tiny bays, I wouldn’t have a problem with it.”

    What’s left? You just undesigned the entire building!

    Like I said, in person its worse. In addition to Fedders holes, you also have dryer vents out the front facade (to the left of the upper bay window). There really is nothing positive to say about this building, other than perhaps that it is brick (and a pretty ugly brick at that). To me it looks more out of place in a row of pre-Civil War row houses than the modernist building.

  • pierre de taille

    WOW what a festival of ugliness we have here. The modern place is even uglier and soul numbing. Brutalist is fine when it is well done but this building is CRAPPY and totally wrecks an otherwise decent row of homes. Garbage! It looks like a bunker meant for defense against space invaders….POS
    And no Rob this one will not age well at all!
    This is an absolute disgrace to Architecture and is definitely not what Walter Gropius intended when he brought modernism to America.

  • “Think of what it would feel like walking down that street if every house had little or no windows…just garage doors and and big, concrete, bunker walls.”

    That’s a pretty fair description of 1960s cul-de-sac suburbia, at least in Cupertino, Calif. Also, unfortunately, Eichler houses, although they’re super cool on the inside (and the garden side).