Hope for 'The Warehouse'

SU's 'Warehouse' earns knowing crowd's enthusiasm

April 19, 2006

Sean Kirst
Post-Standard Columnist

In the past year, Richard Gluckman caught several cab rides into downtown Syracuse from Hancock Airport. Each time, he began talking with the drivers, who reacted with enthusiasm upon learning that Gluckman was the architect who handled the transformation of The Warehouse, the new home for the Syracuse University School of Architecture.

Those were among "the nicest compliments I've gotten," said Gluckman, a world-renowned architect from New York City.

He understands that cabdrivers, better than just about anyone, sense the difference between something fresh and a false hope. And Gluckman described The Warehouse, an eight-story downtown building formerly used for storing furniture, as "one of those rare jobs where everything fell into place."

It opened for students last January, with expectations far beyond a nice academic space.

Both Gluckman and Mark Robbins, dean of architecture at SU, see the building as a dramatic step in resolving a profound regional challenge. For the most part, for 40 years, the big Upstate cities have lost population and energy. Robbins, who witnessed the resurgence of Columbus, Ohio, said a similar revival could happen in Syracuse.

"We're not a ghost town, by any means," he said Tuesday, from his office in The Warehouse. "We just need to figure out what our purpose is."

Part of that notion boils down to the potential of the students Robbins visited as he walked around the building, students working on such wildly different projects as a model of a grand canal in Venice and a model of a waterfront gallery in Hoosick Falls.

There are also more traditional opportunities, Robbins said. He picked up what looked like a piece of standard concrete. When he passed his hand behind it, you could see the motion through the sample. Robbins described it as "translucent concrete," a new building material that he said is being developed by Ted Brown, an associate architecture professor at SU.

Among the students themselves, opinions seemed divided Tuesday on the advantages of attending school downtown as opposed to staying on campus. The school of architecture will remain in The Warehouse for at least two more years, Robbins said, while Slocum Hall, at SU, is completely renovated.

Several students, who declined to give their names, said they miss the university and don't appreciate riding a bus downtown. Others, like Scott Long, paused from eating in a ground-level cafe to say they prefer classes in the new building.

"I like being in the city, where there's always things going on and it's a little more like being in the real world," said Long, 20. In the same way as many of his fellow students, he said he enjoys the coffee shops and businesses of Armory Square.

As for Gluckman, a native of Buffalo, he earned his international fame with graceful conversions of old industrial buildings into gallery and office space. He is also an alumnus of the SU architecture school, which helps to explain his enthusiasm for The Warehouse.

"I have a strong affinity for (SU), and for the city, and it's a project we're really proud of because the budget and the schedule were incredibly tight," Gluckman said by telephone Tuesday, from New York.

He is especially pleased with what he calls "the contemporary intervention into a situation like that." To put it in simple terms, he likes how the new heating vents and lights mesh with the raw surface of the warehouse walls, and the way tinted windows throw golden light into studio space even on cloudy days.

Most of all, he is glad to contribute to an Upstate city that is "rethinking its strategies."

In that sense, it may be years before we can measure the full success of The Warehouse. Gluckman, Robbins and SU Chancellor Nancy Cantor all perceive it as a critical move in breaking down the long- standing division between the campus and its host community.

It is also intended to anchor one end of the "connective corridor," Cantor's dream for creating a new and attractive pedestrian link between the city and SU. The optimal result, Robbins said, would be a downtown where students and other young people want to live, a simple attribute that makes or breaks a city.

"It's like planting grass on the side of a hill," Robbins said of bringing in new residents, who become the answer to long civic erosion.

From the beginning, Robbins saw The Warehouse as a means toward that goal. And even our cabdrivers, who've seen it all, told Gluckman it might work.

Sean Kirst is a columnist with The Post-Standard. His columns appear Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.

2006 The Post-Standard.

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