In the dark, post-9/11 days of February 2002, the late New York Times architecture critic Herbert Muschamp hoped that the arrival of cutting-edge European architecture would “reacquaint us with confidence in the city’s future so that we will be ready to greet it.”
Well, it’s August 2010, the future is here, and it looks great.
From The Standard Hotel straddling the High Line park to a cluster of new buildings by name-brand architects at the end of West 19th Street, amNewYork takes a tour of these bold developments with Manhattan architect Alice Blank in Part 2 of our architecture series.
“They weren’t as interested in development as they were in architecture. You see it. You feel it,” Blank said as we took in the monolithic Standard. “They’re thinking about the place that they’re building, and they’re paying homage to … this part of the city in a very thoughtful, clever way.”
The sophisticated set
Four remarkable structures converge at the end of West 19th Street between 10th and 11th avenues, which has been called Starchitect Row.
The Standard Hotel and High Line
The hotel, by Todd Schliemann/Ennead Architects, works for many reasons, including its volume in the skyline and the public spaces beneath it, Blank said. It’s an instant icon that has yet to get its due, she added.
“I love the way it engaged the High Line. It kind of sets the High Line off.”
Across West 19th at 11th Avenue is Frank Gehry’s first work in New York, the IAC building. Its unique form offers a fascinating contrast to French architect Jean Novel’s nearby building, Blank noted. IAC is a somber, fortress-like edifice compared with Nouvel’s edgy tower. Gehry’s building is more America, more suburbia, whereas Nouvel’s is more urban; Gehry’s is to be savored from the car, the other from the sidewalk, Blank said.
“These sorts of juxtapositions make each of these buildings celebrate each other.”
This residential tower by Nouvel works on so many levels, Blank said. As you approach it on West 19th Street, note the whimsical play of windows on the brick facade, which seems to echo the industrial structures at the building’s feet.
Then savor how that facade changes on West 19th itself, morphing into a massive “shimmering mosaic” of irregularly shaped windows with bold frames.
You turn the corner on 11th Avenue through an arcade, with a tree house hovering above you, and, if you walk up to 20th Street and walk back toward 10th Avenue, you spy a barren, far more austere facade.
Shigeru Ban and Annabelle Selldorf
On the south of side of West 19th Street, next to Gehry’s IAC, stand two notable new buildings. Shigeru Ban’s structure is the Japanese architect’s first permanent work in New York.
A notable feature of the West 19th facade is the retractable screens that cover the windows, a seeming homage to Chelsea’s garages and industrial spaces.
“This is his big moment in the city,” Blank said. “You want to see what’s behind those curtains.”
Why those curtains? “He’s known for using prosaic materials in philanthropic ways,” Blank explained. “It’s magnificent but a little loose on the rationale.”
Blank praised Annabelle Selldorf’s 520 Chelsea, next door, for its style and use of blue terra cotta.