March 8, 2010
scarano pennstation
78 Ten Eyck Street, Robert Scarano, Brooklyn, NY (source)


This past Wednesday, Robert Scarano Jr. was barred from filing building permits in the city of New York, as it was decided that he had intentionally misled the Department of Buildings in order to gain approvals for often grossly over-scaled housing projects. This fraud was achieved through the production and certification of phonies: architectural plans that appeared to follow the rule of the law on paper, but which took advantage of ambiguities in the building code to increase building floor areas.


Scarano achieved the phony by utilizing common architectural elements in uncommon ways. In the past, mezzanines were not counted towards the floor area ratio of a building, as long as they were labeled as storage spaces. It was easy enough for Scarano to convince developers that a storage mezzanine, in plan, could function as a living room in practice, when it resulted in a substantial increase in the gross built area of a building lot, and profits. As a result, Scarano’s buildings are often much larger in scale than the urban fabric that surrounds them. The deception that is so easy to conceal on paper becomes impossible in the skyline: the buildings given a voice, confess to their own crimes.


E. Sean Bailey


Penn Station, 1910-1963 (source)


Contrary to what Holden Caulfield and many others have suggested, phonies are not all bad. In an architectural context, there may be authenticity beyond, simply an homage, that lies within a sequel. Their application may result in a new whole made of copied elements which are displaced and re-contextualized as they never have been.


Erandi de Silva




One Response to “PHONY”

  • Michael W says:


    Thank you for this elegant juxtaposition of that iconic term, especially in the case of Scarano. About time they bar him. Personally I’m starting to think violent forms of protest need to fall squarely onto these bombastic leaders of institutionalized greed for anything to happen.



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