The Salt Shed’s spotlight moment News

| 25 Jan 2016 | 01:03

The building looks like a modern art painting come to life, all angles and edges, with concrete walls that can look bluish or grayish or whitish, or some combination of the three. It would be an unusual structure in any setting, but none more than the fairly prosaic function it was created for --- storing thousands of pounds of the rock salt that the city’s Department of Sanitation uses to deal with snowy streets.

The shed, built on the Manhattan waterfront at the edge of the Tribeca district at a cost of $20 million, pleased architecture critics.

Now a brutal winter storm has given the building and a new $250 million sanitation truck garage across the street their first winter tests.

Getting the structures built was somewhat of a test, with celebrity neighborhood residents like actors James Gandolfini and John Slattery protesting and filing a lawsuit several years ago in efforts to stop the project.

Who wants a big garage, with noisy trucks coming and going, built next door to their hip apartment?

That was then, though. In the last few months, as the buildings have come into use, the general consensus is: How cool.

“You pass it, and it’s like, `ooh, what’s that?’” said Erik Torkells, who runs the Tribeca Citizen website and has been following the shed’s progress.

“Anybody who has seen it has to be happy with it,” said Tobi Bergman, chairman of Community Board 2, which covers the geographic area where the buildings are located. “It’s a real example of how these things can be done well.”

The community board had been opposed to it at the time, Bergman acknowledged, a stance that “was just a mistake.” From the beginning, how the structures would look was a key component of the planning, said Claire Weisz of WXY Architecture, the firm that handled the project along with Dattner Architects.

“Really, it’s an amazing opportunity for a piece of public architecture,” she said.

The garage is for the maintenance and cleaning of sanitation trucks that cover three districts in Manhattan. From the outside, what goes on inside the 425,000-square-foot building is kept somewhat of a mystery, thanks to perforated metal panels lining the walls. At night, the floors glow in different colors, each representing one of the districts. The building also has a green roof, covered in plantings that add benefits like collecting rainwater that is used to wash the trucks.

Then there’s the salt shed. Built to evoke the shape of a salt crystal, it has a single entrance facing away from the street that opens on to piles and piles of rock salt. Mayor Bill de Blasio conducted a weather briefing at the space before the weekend storm, saying, “Sanitation gets credit for being both very, very effective at keeping this city running, but also aesthetically pleasing at the same time.”

That’s not just lip-service from city government. Architecture critic Michael Kimmelman praised both buildings as “not just two of the best examples of new public architecture in the city but a boon to the neighborhood.”

“I can’t think of a better public sculpture to land in New York than the shed,” he wrote in The New York Times.

Sanitation Commissioner Kathryn Garcia said it was gratifying to have the public embrace the structure, and that paying attention to design showed the department wants to be a good neighbor, and also wants to value its workers and the work they do by giving them a beautiful space.

“The salt shed is just phenomenally gorgeous,” she said. “It gives us the opportunity to showcase what we do.”