Photo exhibit highlights the disappearing single-story buildings of the East Village and LES

January 16, 2020

The Rite Aid at 81 1st Avenue. Photo © Adam Friedberg

In 2015, photographer Adam Friedberg was passing through Astor Place and took notice of the two single-story buildings on Third Avenue and St. Marks Place–the one that housed Continental Bar and the other a McDonald’s. From there, Friedberg began a project to photograph all the single-story buildings throughout the changing East Village and Lower East Side neighborhoods and the negative space they created. After capturing 97 of the roughly 105 structures, his work is now on view at the Center for Architecture in an exhibit titled “Single-Story Project.”

338-346 Lafayette Street. Photo © Adam Friedberg

Adam’s fascination with empty space around buildings actually began in the late ’90s. At the time, he was living in Alphabet City and half his block was full of empty lots. He was also working as a professional architectural photographer and wanted to start a passion project in his free time. “I thought, ‘What would be the opposite of photographing architecture? Photographing not-architecture,'” he told us. And there the Empty Lot Project was born. Adam says that he wasn’t able to drum up a great deal of interest in the project, but when he started documenting single-story buildings in 2015, people took notice.

In a press statement Adam said:

Of particular interest to me…is the negative space these single-story buildings create. They open the street to the sky, providing a vista that can be enjoyed by all of us. With air rights, sunshine, and city views so valuable, and with the polarization of wealth having a direct impact on the area’s demographics, how much longer can these squat buildings stand?

Katzs Delicatessen at 205 East Houston Street. Photo © Adam Friedberg

Initially, Adam thought there’d be about 30 buildings for him to photograph, but he soon realized there were over 100 in the East Village and Lower East Side. To find them all, he walked around the neighborhood and then confirmed the building specifics on the city’s open data NYCityMap. While some looked like single-story buildings, they actually weren’t and vice versa. He notes that churches, though very tall, are usually only one story since they’re just one large open space.

The project took Adam a bit longer because he says he really wanted to “make something uniform” and therefore had to shoot in relatively consistent light, which meant no rainy days or bright sun. He also put two conditions on his photographs–no people and no cars–so he had to shoot around parking regulations.

Castellano Electric Motors at 147 Ridge Street. Photo © Adam Friedberg

The exhibit at the Center for Architecture came about thanks in part to Alan G. Brake Assoc. AIA, who works in business development at Deborah Berke Partners. “I’d been following the project in piecemeal fashion for many years. I reached out to Adam, and, coincidentally, he had just completed the series. While there are lots of individual images in the series that I love, I realized that the photos are much more powerful as a group,” he told us. Alan curated the exhibit, deciding to feature half of the full series–54 blunt and frontal black and white photographs. He then organized them into six categories–storefronts, churches, garages and warehouses, cultural and community spaces, bars and restaurants, and strips.

The Roberto Clemente Center at 540 East 13th Street. Photo © Adam Friedberg

“If you’ve spent time in the East Village and the Lower East Side, the series can play funny mind games with you. It really evokes memories and associations, moments of recognition of a certain kind of urban experience. People have very personal reactions to the photographs,” says Alan.

Adam estimates that about 85-90 of the single-story buildings remain, as an influx of development in the East Village and Lower East Side has taken place in recent years. He says that the gas stations are what he misses most. “I don’t drive, I don’t need gas, I didn’t like them when they were there, but not having them there is very strange… there are condos wherever they were.”

Single-Story Project is on view now through February 29th. Find out more information here >>

Photos © Adam Friedberg

Interested in similar content?

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published.

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *