By Garo Gumusyan, AIA
“Less is More” is the famous quote the legendary German architect Mies Van der Rohe is known for. Be that as it may be, his lesser known dictum, “God is in the details,” appears to be guiding principle for us mere mortals, Armenians in particular.
In the case of the proposed development of the Diocesan property, these details take on epic, ungodly proportions, for, being in the original Diocesan development council myself many years ago, I had a close-up view of the same issues that appears to be as much relevant today as it was then.
The “Legacy” issue. This was the issue that effectively ended the proposed development then and it appears that the history will repeat itself now. The fact that the Church was built by the enormous efforts of a group of deeply faithful Armenians, with no outside help or funding, was and still is an unparalleled achievement, which we all Armenians are rightly proud of. However, this achievement has also brought its own heavy legacy, banishing any and all thoughts of altering it. The thought process “if they were able to built under such dire circumstances then, how come the Diocese can’t maintain it now” runs deep. Probably more so then, since some of the spouses of these great men were alive and their vehement opposition to any development echoed more vibrantly among the community.
The “Real Estate Valuation” issue. This, in my opinion, was another issue that hindered any meaningful real estate negotiation then, as it will do now. With so much emotional legacy invested, I thought that we had overestimated the value of what we had to offer to the developers. In the reality of New York real estate, not in our virtual reality, from a Real Estate developer’s point of view, the site is not that great as we think it is, and what would be some of the desirable attributes for a development from the developer’s point of view conflicted with the Diocese’s requirements. Subsequently, the first tier real estate developers showed no interest and walked away. That was the case then, and it appears to be the case now.
The “Architectural” issue. A disciple of Mies Van Der Rohe, another legendary architect, Philip Johnson, wryly commented that “In New York, we don’t build architecture, we just build buildings.” Any casual observer, looking at the recent crop of buildings will agree. Sadly, this ordinariness is more obvious with apartment building developments, whether they are condominium or rentals, rentals being more so. In rare occasions, a top tier developer will make an attempt to bring in a so-called “starchitect” to make an architectural statement which will add value to his development , however, if those developers are not there, unfortunately the end result will inevitably turn out to be the current rendering. This rendering will be a tough sell as a backdrop to the landmarks qualities of the cathedral itself.