The NYC Design Commission (formerly the Art Commission) is an 11-member, un-paid, Mayor-appointed group that must approve all structures placed “on or above” city property.
This relatively-obscure body (that is to say nearly completely unknown) can veto the design of everything from bus shelters to public art placed along the Park Avenue median. The Commission was established - ready for this – in 1898, long before zoning and any other significant controls on the design and massing of buildings in the City.
According to the City Charter, the Commission must include a painter, a sculptor, an architect, a landscape architect, three “lay members” and representatives of the Mayor (of course he appoints all of them), the head of the NY Public Library, the Brooklyn Museum of Art and the director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. This Blog is unaware of the history of the make-up of the Commission (perhaps some of our readers can enlighten us) or why other cultural institutions (e.g. Queens, the Bronx and Staten Island seem to be missing here) are not included.
Followers of Zone may be interested to learn that “on or above” city property could be interpreted to mean structures placed over City streets – e.g. pedestrian bridges between buildings or connecting sidewalks over a public way. Considerable debate was held over the design and aesthetics of the few automated bathrooms that were placed in some public areas. These were announced with great fanfare but seem to have lost their way. We understand that the Commission also extensively reviewed the new bus shelters now placed in many sidewalks across the Boroughs.