Casting Bogardus Plaza in an Architectural Light

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Monday, May 14, 2012
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Bogardus Plaza. (Branden Klayko / AN)

Bogardus Plaza. (Branden Klayko / AN)

It’s not every day that architects get a public space named after one of their own, but tucked away in Lower Manhattan is a small pedestrian plaza named after one of the most important 19th-century architects around. Bogardus Plaza occupies one block of Hudson Street on the corner of Chambers Street and West Broadway only a few blocks from AN headquarters and is named from James Bogardus (1800-1874), the inventor of the cast-iron building, and last week the plaza received a fresh coat of gravel-epoxy paint.

Bogardus Plaza. (Branden Klayko / AN)

Bogardus Plaza. (Branden Klayko / AN)

Bogardus’ cast-iron buildings revolutionized architecture and represented a distinctly modern take on building during the Industrial Revolution. For the first time, building elements could be mass produced and quickly assembled on site all while retaining the ornate facades fashionable in the middle of the 19th century. Cast iron as a material, predating modern steel, also permitted unprecedented expanses of glass within cast-iron facades emitting natural light deep into the buildings. Bogardus also espoused the fireproof qualities of his new building type.

Examples of cast-iron architecture can be found in neighborhoods throughout New York, especially in TriBeCa, Soho, and the Financial District and Bogardus’ legacy can be felt throughout the country in cities like Portland, Louisville, KY and Washington, D.C. where many cast-iron structures still remain. Only a few examples of Bogardus’ work remain in New York including structures at 75 Murray Street (1857) and 85 Leonard Street (1860) both near the plaza.

The viewing garden at Bogardus Plaza was established in 1996 in what was once a barren traffic island. Noted preservationist Margot Gayle lobbied for the site to be named after Bogardus. Gayle is responsible for the creation of the 26-block Soho-Cast Iron Historic District and author of the seminal Cast Iron Architecture in New York and Cast Iron Architecture in America: The Significance of James Bogardus. The site, maintained by Friends of the Bogardus Garden, was expanded in 2010 to include a temporary plaza on Hudson Street while road construction took place nearby and was made permanent in late 2011 due to widespread popularity of the new public space.

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