New Proposed Design for Tribeca Mansion Called 'Cold' and 'Hostile'

Rendering of proposed mansion at 11 Hubert Street, which would also front onto narrow Collister Street. Credit: E. Cobb Architects/SPAN Architecture

Nov. 17, 2019

Cold, fortresslike, even hostile. That’s how Community Board 1’s Landmarks and Preservation Committee last week described the newly revealed design for a Tribeca mansion at 11 Hubert Street—the former site of a never-built Maya Lin design. 

Last year, the family that expected to move into a mansion designed by Lin and architect William Bialosky sold the 11 Hubert site to an anonymous buyer for a reported $20 million. That person, in turn, hired Seattle architect Eric Cobb to come up with something different. And, it appears, far more private. 

Cobb, who specializes in modern luxury homes for clients in Washington State, has designed a 17,000-square-foot, 70-foot-high single-family home of glass, granite and stainless steel, with mostly glass on the Hubert Street side and a light granite facade on Collister Street. Located in the Tribeca West Historic District, the building needs Landmarks Preservation Commission approval. A garage and two-story commercial building now occupy the site.

“What we have done in this building is put ourselves in dialogue with its context,” Cobb told the committee, which is advisory to the Landmarks Commission. He argued that the materials and building’s proportions are a modern interpretation of structures found in Tribeca’s historic districts. Windows facing Collister Street are meant to mimic the rhythm and shadow lines of those on neighboring buildings, he said, though some are not actual windows but indentations meant to suggest windows. At street level, passersby would be greeted with dark steel panels, granite slabs, and frosted glass behind metal grills.

“It allows for conditions where you don’t need to have curtains or drapes on the sidewalk,” Cobb said. “You get your privacy but you get light.”

The committee, which is advisory to the Landmarks Preservation Commission, wasn’t buying it.

“The street facade and street level,” said co-chair Bruce Ehrmann, “is so hostile and unwelcoming that I find it almost unbearable.”

“I walk down Collister all the time and as narrow as it is, it’s almost bucolic. It’s welcoming,” Ehrmann added. “This cold, black empty space. No windows. It screams stay away. And the bars. Even the entrance is an affront. Don’t come near us.”

Committee member Elizabeth Lamere called the building “cold and dark” as well, and said she saw no connection to other buildings in the neighborhood.

Megan McHugh, also on the committee, agreed. “To me it looks like a storyboard from a sci-fi movie,” she said of a rendering. 

“Our intention was to create some warmth in texture and detail” of the materials, Cobb explained.

The committee’s complaints extended to the roof of the building and a three-story-high elevator bulkhead, which is visible from the street and, Cobb acknowledged, rises “more than we would like to but it’s the nature of the building.”

“The elevator head house is not my problem,” said Ehrmann, suggesting that the extra bulkhead height was a mere luxury needed for a lift that could travel the seven flights, from celler-level basketball court to rooftop terrace and hot tub.

The half-court, full-height court, along with gym and sauna, comprise about a 4,000-square-foot athletic facility. The home’s proposed floor plans also show 10 bathrooms, four bedrooms (plus a bed loft), a 1,120 square-foot living room, two bars, and an inner courtyard among other rooms and amenities. 

Cobb, who will be presenting his design to the Landmarks Commission on Dec. 3, might take some solace in the committee’s rejection in 2016 of Lin’s and Bialosky’s initial design for the mansion. They accepted a revised version, which the Landmarks Commission also approved.

Then again, Ehrmann noted, it comes down to the client’s demands. “I know what you were tasked with doing,” he said. “You were tasked with fortresslike specifications.”

A representative for the owner declinded to comment.