Proposal for 70 Mulberry Street
How can we both honor the history of the original building and respond to the needs of the present? If we don’t want a faceless glass tower to replace the original brick and stone building, how should 70 Mulberry be rebuilt? Should we “preserve” history by rebuilding the building exactly as it was before the fire, even though C.B.J. Snyder’s original building in 1893 was one story shorter? What will make 70 Mulberry the new beacon and heart of the Chinatown that the community deserves?
Since the 5-alarm fire at 70 Mulberry Street in January 2020, there has been much discussion about the future of 70 Mulberry and what should become of the building and site. While opinions vary from full restoration to total demolition, it's clear that the building and site hold an important place in Chinatown's history.
My proposal is to construct a contemporary Chinese-American addition above the restored floors of the original building. At 10 stories tall, the building maximizes the allowable square footage on the site, forgoing the need for a lengthy ULURP process. There is a contemporary and respectful alternative to the two options of full demolition and “full restoration,” the latter of which can be read as a futile attempt to reconstruct a past that is already gone (and partially demolished).
My proposal is a contemporary adaptation of historic Chinese towers, built for Chinatown in this present time. The form of ancient Chinese towers is made up of a base (often constructed in stone) and a upper tower constructed with rich wood detailing. The tower portion has the signature Chinese-style roofs that often form covered terraces. My design uses the original building at 70 Mulberry as the “base,” and builds a terraced addition as the tower. The original building is restored in brick and the old narrow classroom windows are replaced with large panes of glass more appropriate for the community activities within a large building. The tower portion is constructed in steel and concrete, but with the structure expressed in the same way that the wood construction of Chinese towers was visible and celebrated.
The large, wide terraces are shared by everyone in the community, and they provide beautiful views over Columbus Park and the city. Chinatown needs spaces that are beautiful, generous, and shared.
Guangyue Tower, Liaocheng, built during the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644)
As the world heals from the human and economic toll of the pandemic, Chinatown is proud, generous, and ready for whatever the future brings
Fanny and her grandson were early for his Cantonese lesson at 70 Mulberry, so they went out on the balcony. From the 8th floor they could see Chinatown Ice Cream Factory on Bayard: “Let’s get dragonfruit flavor after your class, my treat.”
As the sun sets on a Thursday evening in July, people in Chinatown gather after work on the 9th floor of 70 Mulberry for a discussion about the development of Chinese opera in the early 1900s:
Ground Level on Mulberry Street:
©Philip Poon 2020