Some might see an echo of the pink triangle and think of Act Up, the AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power. Some might see an echo of the letter lambda, the symbol of gay liberation when AIDS began decimating the gay population. Some might see a V for virus, or for St. Vincent’s, the hospital across the street where so many of the first victims went to die.
How the city looks and feels — and why it got that way.
But most visitors to a new city park planned in the triangle bounded by Seventh Avenue, 12th Street and Greenwich Avenue would probably see only an angular, 18-foot-high canopy made of trellises densely planted with English ivy, Virginia creeper and honeysuckle.
It was that modest and multipurpose role that won the support of the Greenwich Village community board on Thursday night for what would be New York’s first prominent, free-standing AIDS memorial.
This is a very different concept from the “Infinite Forest” design shown to the public in January, which would have occupied the entire 17,000-square-foot triangle with a grove of birch trees surrounded by mirrored walls.
By contrast, the canopy would cover 1,600 square feet of the western corner of a more conventional city park, which is expected to open in 2014. The memorial aspect would be most obvious in the granite paving under the canopy, to be inscribed with narrative text, facts, statistics, quotations and poetry. A granite disc, glazed with a thin surface of running water, would sit under a circular opening in the canopy roof.
What the proposals have in common is that they were both made by a new organization known as AIDS Memorial Park, founded by Christopher Tepper, 30, and Paul Kelterborn, 34. Both proposals were designed by Studio a+i of Brooklyn.
“Of course, the architectural interpretation is multifaceted,” said Mr. Tepper, whose day job is directing development and planning for the Brooklyn Navy Yard Development Corporation. “But the underlying metaphor is that of the shelter provided by a dense forest canopy and the visual impact created when trees in the grove are lost.”
In essence, Mr. Tepper and Mr. Kelterborn lobbed their memorial proposal into the already difficult negotiations among city officials, Greenwich Villagers and the Rudin family of real estate developers over the Rudins’ plan to build hundreds of expensive apartments on the site of St. Vincent’s Hospital, which closed in 2010.
Neighbors had long expected that a park would replace the fenced-in garden and windowless utility building that occupy the triangular block opposite the main hospital building, which now belongs to the Rudins. Just as they were getting to the finish line — or so it seemed — they were suddenly being told that an AIDS memorial would be built instead, one whose caliber and gravity would attract busloads of pilgrims.
“Making sure all the parties had a significant role in the decision-making process was the top priority for us in the Council when discussing the AIDS memorial,” Christine C. Quinn, the City Council speaker, said. “Once we got everyone into a room and focused on the issue at hand, we were able to come to an agreement.”
As part of the overall redevelopment deal struck in March, the Rudins will turn over the triangular site to the city for use as parkland. The memorial design approved Thursday by Community Board 2 emerged from a series of four sessions in which neighbors and the memorial advocates met to work through differences and find points of agreement.
“It started off somewhat contentiously,” said Brad Hoylman, the former board chairman, who is now running for the State Senate. The situation was complicated by the seemingly finished quality of the “Infinite Forest” rendering.
Mr. Hoylman came in for criticism because he had voted for “Infinite Forest” as a member of a jury convened by the AIDS Memorial Park group to judge a design competition. “I was asked, ‘How could you have approved that?’” Mr. Hoylman recalled. “It was a matter of communicating that this was a starting point, a concept.”
Important as the community board endorsement is, there are critical steps ahead, as the memorial proposal is subject to the approval of the City Planning Commission. Its chairwoman, Amanda M. Burden, is a stickler for detail when it comes to the design of public space. The design must also be reviewed by the Landmarks Preservation Commission, as the triangle sits in the Greenwich Village Historic District.
Should the plan be approved, the AIDS Memorial Park group would be responsible for meeting the $2 million estimated cost of the canopy, fountain and paving, as well as future operating costs, which would be covered through interest from a planned $500,000 endowment. Mr. Tepper said he hoped the memorial can open when the park does, in the winter of 2014.
New York’s first permanent, public AIDS memorial is a 42-foot-long inscribed bench in the Hudson River Park. It was dedicated in 2008.