In the 1970s, Michael Friedlander was an architecture student at Cooper Union. His head was full of physical, unconventional designs. After graduating, he settled on a workaround with the City of New York that included more prosaic tasks like drafting blueprints to renovate locker rooms for plumbing workers.
During his 40-year career in the plumbing department – he was an in-house architect, manager of various projects, and ultimately special projects manager – Mr. Friedlander never gave up his crusade trying to change the public's view of bourgeois architecture from obtrusive mediocrity to something that worthy of recognition or even veneration.
His vision was finally embodied in the form of a sculptural salt warehouse for the plumbing department on the outskirts of TriBeCa. The crystalline cubic structure of glacier blue concrete, 69 feet high, is known as the Spring Street Salt Shed and, with a little imagination, appears to form a coarse grain of salt.
Mr. Friedlander described the $ 20 million structure as a whimsical "architectural folly" that can hold 5,000 tons of salt.
A community coalition, to which the actors Casey Affleck, Kirsten Dunst, James Gandolfini and John Slattery as well as the musician Lou Reed belonged, was against the shed and the adjacent garbage truck garage. But as architecture critic Michael Kimmelman wrote in the New York Times in 2015: “Opponents of the Hudson Square plumbing project may not have got exactly what they wanted. But they were lucky. You have something better. "
Mr. Kimmelman added, "I can't think of a better public sculpture to land in New York than the shed."
Mr. Friedlander died in a Manhattan hospital on March 21. He was 63 years old.
His niece Julia Friedlander said the cause was complications from an infection.
Mr. Friedlander was born into a Jewish household and practiced Nichiren Buddhism, whose principles, especially those of environmental protection and sustainability, he tried to apply to his work.
When asked by a community board member why the truck garage he designed on 12th Avenue and West 55th Street was interrupted by so many windows, Friedlander replied unpretentiously, "There are people in there."
This garage was recognized by the city's art commission (now the Public Design Commission) in 2007. Including a shed with translucent tent fabric in Far Rockaway, Queens, where ice-melting salt is stored so that sanitary trucks can spit on winter roads. He also received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the commission.
But Mr. Friedlander is probably best known for overseeing the design and construction of the Spring Street Salt Shed on West Street and Spring Street near the Hudson River, as well as the adjacent garage. These structures received an honorary award from the American Institute of Architects in 2018.
Tobi Bergman, the chairman of Community Board 2, who originally spoke out against the project, told Architect Magazine in 2016: “Everyone who has seen it must be happy with it. It's a real example of how these things can be done well. "
Mr. Friedlander told The Times in 2015 that his secret to overcoming opposition to public works that isn't in my backyard is straightforward: "Build the best building in the neighborhood."
"I keep learning from one building to another," he said. "I may not make a lot of money, but I have fun."
Michael Jay Friedlander was born on June 6, 1957 in Manhattan as the son of teacher Frances (Kempner) Friedlander and insurance salesman Joseph Friedlander.
He grew up in an apartment building in the East Village and started thinking about town planning early on. "In kindergarten," he told the Times, "I built housing developments with highways between them."
After graduating from Seward Park High School in Manhattan, he earned an architecture degree from Cooper Union in 1979.
In 2005 he married Jeanette Emmarco, who later worked in the park department and in personnel administration. She survived him along with his brothers Jeffrey, Bruce and Kenneth. Jeffrey Friedlander retired in 2015 as the second in command in the city's Legal Department.
The salt shed had many mothers and fathers, starting with the architects who had worked on the project, WXY and Dattner Architects; Amanda M. Burden, Chair of the Urban Planning Commission under Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg; and James S. Polshek, member of the Public Design Commission.
Rick Bell, executive director of the excellence program in the city's design and construction department, said in 2015 that the shed could be the most important change to the public face of the plumbing department since its fleet was painted white in 1967.
The concrete walls of the shed are six feet thick, which leads architect Richard Dattner to envision a future civilization that will encounter when Charlton Heston's character in the movie "Planet of the Apes" discovers the remains of the Statue of Liberty.
"You will ask," said Friedlander, "why did these people worship salt?"