Tag Archives: 2013

51 Astor Place

51 Astor Place

51 Astor Place, scorned as the “Death Star” of Greenwich Village, is an imaginative form for the irregular former site of Cooper Union’s engineering school.

The Village Voice‘s harsh words may be familiarity-bred contempt. The Voice was headquartered just two blocks south during the years of construction.

Certainly, the blue-black mirror-glass edifice towers over and clashes with most of its low-rise masonry landmark neighbors. Paradoxically, the reflective facade makes the 1906 landmark Wanamaker’s Annex twice as prominent.

Viewed from the west, the Fourth Avenue facade seems simple a simple monolith, like a giant tower PC. (A fitting image, as the prime tenant is IBM!) From any other angle, the irregular pentagon takes on more complex forms. The east side of the tower incorporates an optical illusion. The wall is split diagonally into narrow panes of light-colored glass above wide panes of dark-colored glass, giving the appearance of a faceted facade. The view from above (via Google Earth) is revealing.

The eastern side of the building – with separate entry numbered 101 Astor Place – is now the Manhattan campus of St. John’s University.

Meanwhile, Architect Magazine explains why and how the Third Avenue and Fourth Avenue facades are different. The Metals in Construction article explains the building’s complexities.

51 Astor Place Vital Statistics
51 Astor Place Recommended Reading

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International Gem Tower

After some delays, the International Gem Tower (IGT) now dazzles in the middle of the (ironically) dreary block known as the Diamond District. The 34-story office tower, structurally complete but not fully occupied, now challenges the rest of the block to catch up, visually if not technically.

Architecturally, the IGT’s claim to fame is skin deep: Architects Skidmore, Owings & Merrill call it “crystalline curtain wall with embedded steel medallions.” The reflective surfaces change appearance as the sun moves – especially if viewed through polarized lenses – because metal and glass reflect light differently. Illuminated offices will further change the building’s appearance – it may become mesmerizing.

Beneath the skin, International Gem Tower has other innovations specifically focused on the diamond trade: Secure underground delivery bays, double door (man trap) entry to office suites and other security systems. The building has also been certified as New York’s only U.S. Foreign Trade Zone – allowing duty-free import/export within the building.

The building’s other distinction is that it is two buildings in one. The first 20 floors are being sold to diamond industry tenants as condominiums. The first three floors have been sold to Turkish-based Gulaylar Group for a retail mall. The upper 14 floors are being leased to non-diamond industry tenants – these occupants have their own entrance, at 55 W 46th Street, in the midst of Little Brazil.

There’s a pleasant little public access space behind 1166 Sixth Avenue (between W 46th and W 45th Streets) where you can sit and contemplate IGT’s changing visual patterns.

International Gem Tower Vital Statistics
International Gem Tower Recommended Reading

Google Map

Mulberry House

Mulberry House demonstrates how architects can play zoning restrictions to circumvent the intent of community planning boards. Here, zoning restrictions were written to preserve the character of the neighborhood. (Mulberry House is directly across the street from the landmark Puck Building.) But as the architects described in ArchDaily:

“Making a literal interpretation of code written for classical ornamentation allowed us to project our enclosure over the property line at 10% intervals for every 100 square feet. Maximizing the amount of projected area, while minimizing the overall depth of the enclosure became key criteria for our design. When coupled with material properties and fabrication constraints, these criteria began to define an approach that was a contemporary reinterpretation of brick detailing. By customizing a standard precast brick panel system, we were able to achieve maximum effect at minimum cost. The building then becomes veiled by an textured wrapper around the street walls in contrast with the simplicity of the inner core.”

Whether you like SHoP Architects’ design or not, you have to admire the texture of the brickwork and its construction. Look up along the building’s southern edge on Mulberry Street, to see the brick-on-concrete panels.* And if you like to see how things are made, Mulberry House’s construction is richly documented on line – browse the Recommended Reading links below for very detailed views and explanations.

Alas, the original developer bailed out on this condo project when the real estate market tanked; the new developer has reconfigured Mulberry House as a rental building. The eight full-floor apartments start at $10,500/month; the one triplex penthouse is reportedly $25,000/month.

* In most modern construction, a steel and/or concrete frame supports the building; brick is only a decorative/protective skin that is attached to the frame.

Mulberry House Vital Statistics
Mulberry House Recommended Reading

Google Map

4545 Center Boulevard

4545 Center Boulevard is a new (still leasing at this writing) apartment tower in Long Island City designed by Miami-based Arquitectonica. The balcony-studded, rippled glass facades rise 40 floors over the East River, part of the Queens West development behind the giant Pepsi sign and Gantry Plaza State Park.

An attached six-story parking garage/amenities center is topped by a 50,000-square-foot “amenity deck” indoor/outdoor recreation area, replete with deck chairs.

This was the last of five towers along three blocks developed by TF Cornerstone. (TF stands for Tom and Fred Elghanayan.)

4545 Center Boulevard Vital Statistics
4545 Center Boulevard Recommended Reading

Google Map