Tag Archives: postmodern

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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15 Central Park West

15 Central Park West

15 Central Park West is one of the newest, yet most famous addresses on the avenue. The asymmetrical condominium towers take up a full block. The 20-story “House” is on Central Park West; the 43-story “Tower” is on Broadway. The two are connected in a courtyard that also serves as a private driveway, to shield rich and famous tenants from paparazzi.

Privacy is prized as much as luxury (10- to 14-foot ceilings throughout) and amazing views of Central Park. The 202 apartments are arranged so that only two units share an elevator landing.

The $950 million building is sheathed entirely in limestone – unusual (and costly) for a structure of this size. Coincidentally, the limestone came from the same quarry used by another all-limestone landmark – the Empire State Building.

The towers are too new to be considered for official landmark status, but they replace the Mayflower Hotel, which very well might have had that honor. The Upper West Side-Central Park West Historic District begins across W 62nd street.

15 Central Park West Vital Statistics
15 Central Park West Recommended Reading

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279 Central Park West

279 Central Park West, completed in 1988, is among the youngest buildings on the avenue, yet it is part of New York’s Upper West Side/Central Park West Historic District. I suspect that it’s included because it was easier for the NYC Landmarks Preservation Commission to leave the building in the district than to specifically exclude it.

The architect, Constantine Kondylis, is often associated with Donald Trump projects (including Trump International Hotel and Tower at the foot of Central Park West). But 279 Central Park West is a far cry from the black or gold glass boxes that The Donald is fond of.

As a modern building, it lacks the ornate facades typical of the district, but 279 is still pleasing for its three-story limestone base, inset bay windows, curved corner windows, and eight terraced setbacks. Thanks to luxury amenities and location (or in spite of location, if one doesn’t want to be so far uptown), apartments in this condo have million-dollar price tags. Or you can rent. At this writing, there’s a three-bedroom, 2,855 sq. ft. duplex available for just $22,000 a month.

279 Central Park West Vital Statistics
279 Central Park West Recommended Reading

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334 Amsterdam Avenue

334 Amsterdam Avenue, aka Samuel Priest Rose Building, is the home of the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan. The gray brick and blue glass cube is striking; its materials, style and colors stand out on an avenue dominated by earth-tone classic masonry structures.

The building’s recreational facilities – including a gymnasium and tenth-floor swimming pool – created unusual design challenges.

Architectural trivia: The center’s after-school activities include construction classes for budding architects! Dubbed “Crazy Constructions,” the program lets 6- and 7-year-olds “Design and build towers, bridges, houses, rollercoasters, and other superstructures. Join Dazzling Discoveries as you explore and experiment with plastic bricks, wood, paper, and many other materials. Students will learn about engineering, architecture, and physics while inventing and creating their own toys and projects.”

334 Amsterdam Avenue Vital Statistics
334 Amsterdam Avenue Recommended Reading

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Bronx County Hall of Justice

Bronx County Hall of Justice reverses centuries of tradition: The aluminum and glass facades are designed for openness and transparency instead of monumental intimidation.

According to the architects, “The image of the courthouse in society was of primary concern in the design of the building. The program is organized in a linear manner around an open civic space and layered from public to private, with the public circulation, animated by a series of cantilevered stairs, facing the open space. Within the courtyard sets a free-standing public building that serves as the jury assembly room, gives scale to the space, and is the symbolic as well as formal focus of the project. The exterior wall design responds to the various functions within and orientations of the building. The curtain wall facing the south and west takes the shape of a folded plane with integrated light shelves that reflect light into the courtrooms and shade the adjacent corridor. The intent is to express the building as open and inviting, a metaphor for the transparency of the judicial process.”

The building is a dazzling contrast to the Bronx Criminal Court, next door, and the Bronx County Building (originally Bronx County Courthouse) at Grand Concourse, just two blocks west.

Despite its openness, the Hall of Justice was built with security in mind: The glass walls are bullet- and blast-resistant.

While the building’s design was exceptional, the construction was anything but. The construction site was contaminated, the low-bidding contractor was disqualified for suspected mob ties, the underground garage was deemed unsafe, and air conditioning for the court computers didn’t work. The four-year, $325 million project stretched accordion-like to six years and $421 million, opening in 2008.

Bronx County Hall of Justice Vital Statistics
Bronx County Hall of Justice Recommended Reading

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Kingsborough Community College

Kingsborough Community College has three buildings with inventive, eye-catching forms. Alas, the older buildings lack the detailing and quality materials that would make them exceptional architecture.

The campus caught my eye when I was scanning Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach/Manhattan Beach area in Google Earth, for a class assignment.

The Robert J. Kibbee Library is named for a former Chancellor of City University. Leon M. Goldstein Performing Arts Center is named for a former President of the college. (There is also a Leon M. Goldstein High School for the Sciences adjoining the campus.)

(Photographers beware: The administration is super-sensitive about photos. No fewer than three campus police converged on me and my camera the morning of my shoot. Even after showing my school ID and assignment sheet, it took 90 minutes and a conversation with the school’s Events VP to get clearance. Throughout the day, campus police stopped to ask if I had permission to photograph.)

Kingsborough Community College Vital Statistics
Robert J. Kibbee Library
Administration Building / Leon M. Goldstein Performing Arts Center
Marine & Academic Center
Kingsborough Community College Recommended Reading

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New York by Gehry

This Frank Gehry-designed building fascinates me from every angle. Originally named Beekman Tower (it’s on the block bounded by Spruce, Gold, Nassau and Beekman Streets), it was rechristened New York By Gehry to capitalize on the starchitect‘s name.

At this writing, New York By Gehry is the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere – though One57, a new building on 57th Street, will soon overtake it in height. But New York is full of tall buildings: It’s the unique shape and stainless steel skin that make 8 Spruce Street (the official address) stand out. The rippled facade changes its appearance according to the angle of the sun (and by night, the moon).

New York By Gehry multitasks: Beneath the 900 luxury rental apartments there’s a five-story brick-faced public school, retail space, plus parking and offices for Beekman Downtown Hospital. The hospital, next door, owned the land under New York By Gehry.

Note that the apartments are rentals – not cooperative or condominium units. Also unusual, the building is part-owned by the city: the Department of Education owns the school.

New York By Gehry got very good reviews, generally. But you can’t please everyone. Time Out New York calls it one of the city’s ten ugliest buildings:

“Frank Gehry’s rippling, residential behemoth reminds us of one of those hulking movie spacecraft that lands by planting itself into the earth and deploying robot arachnoid pods that harvest humans for nefarious extraterrestrial purposes. It sort of makes you think about the Wall Streeter who can afford to live here harvesting taxpayer-bailout money to cover for their screwups. Sorry, that was a terrible analogy. It doesn’t change the fact that both Wall Street and this building are hard to like.”

Frank Gehry’s other major contribution to New York City architecture is the IAC Building (2007) in Chelsea – West 18th Street at 11th Avenue.

New York By Gehry Vital Statistics
  • Location: 8 Spruce Street (blockthrough to Beekman Street), between Nassau and Gold Streets
  • Year completed: 2011
  • Architect: Frank Gehry
  • Floors: 76
  • Style: Postmodern
New York By Gehry Suggested Reading

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The Corinthian

The Corinthian condominiums on East 38th Street isn’t a landmark structure – yet – but it is certainly one of New York’s most distinctive buildings, residential or otherwise. The 57-story* “bundled tubes” design creates enormous semi-circular bay windows on all five (yes, five) asymmetrical sides arranged to maximize everyone’s view; private balconies are nestled between the tubes. (Google’s satellite view reveals The Corinthian’s unique shape.)

The full-block site is lavishly landscaped – even the roof has gardens; a fountain cascades in front of the grand entry; a public plaza forms the First Avenue border. The park-like setting isn’t mere decoration – The Corinthian sits at the entrance to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel, and the greenery minimizes the sights and sounds of traffic. (The East Side Airlines Terminal stood here prior to 1987: the location was ideal for quick exits to La Guardia and JFK airports.)

The development’s other amenities include an indoor swimming pool, underground garage, fitness club with running track and outdoor sun deck.

The amenities, location, views and luxurious design come at a price, naturally. According to City Realty’s listing, apartments cost from $545,000 (studio) to $5.85 million (5BR), depending on floor and exposure.

The Corinthian was designed by Michael Schimenti and Der Scutt Architects, built in 1987 and opened in 1988.

* Depending on the source, the height of The Corinthian is 54, 55 or 57 stories; we’re using the height reported in the owner’s website.

The Corinthian Vital Statistics
  • Location: 330 E 38th Street (off First Avenue)
  • Year completed: 1988
  • Architect: Michael Schimenti and Der Scutt Architects
  • Floors: 57
  • Style: Postmodern
The Corinthian Suggested Reading

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100 United Nations Plaza

100 United Nations Plaza, a 52-story wedge-topped condo monolith, dominated Turtle Bay until the Trump World Tower was built next door in 2001. (Appropriately, Trump World Tower looks as though it came right out of the movie “2001, A Space Odyssey.”)

Completed in 1989, the building is layered brick and glass containing 267 condominium apartments. The north and south facades of this giant arrow are different: The uptown side sports three columns of balconies; the downtown side has five columns of triangular balconies. Entry to the building is through a landscaped plaza on East 48th Street (327 E 48th Street, to be exact), deeply offset from First Avenue.

Apartments range up to six BR/six bath, and have nine-foot ceilings and floor-to-ceiling windows; all are fitted with luxury appliances. The building amenities include garage and a fitness center with pool.

100 United Nations Plaza Vital Statistics
  • Location: 327 E 48th Street between First and Second Avenues
  • Year completed: 1989
  • Architect: Der Scutt Architects and Schuman, Lichtenstein, Claman & Efron
  • Floors: 52
  • Style: Postmodern
100 United Nations Plaza Suggested Reading

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Bloomberg Tower

Bloomberg Tower, aka 731 Lexington Avenue, aka One Beacon Court, is an imaginative 55-story* mixed-use building that occupies the site of the former Alexander’s department store** – the entire block bounded by Lexington and Third Avenues and E58th and E59th Streets. The bottom floors are retail stores and banks; the middle floors are offices – primarily Bloomberg LP; and the top floors are luxury condominium apartments.

The tower may be considered three buildings: A 55-story high-rise on Lexington Avenue, an 11-story building on Third Avenue, and a seven-story atrium – One Beacon Court – bridging the two, like a glass-and-steel semicolon. Vornado Realty Trust was the developer, César Pelli & Associates was the architect.

To accommodate the different needs of commercial and residential space, the lower 30 floors are built on a steel frame; the top 25 floors are concrete. The five-story crown – a bright white beacon at night – contains mechanical equipment, including a tuned mass damper to offset any wind-induced swaying.

While Bloomberg Tower is a child, age-wise (completed 2004), it’s a giant among New York’s residential buildings among the tallest in New York City.

* The building height ranges between 53 and 55 stories, depending on source. The owner’s website states 55 stories.

** I must confess, Alexander’s was demolished before I got re-interested in architecture. The only thing I remember about the store is that lingerie was on the first floor.

Bloomberg Tower Vital Statistics
  • Location: 731 Lexington Avenue between E 58th and E 59th Streets
  • Year completed: 2004
  • Architect: César Pelli & Associates
  • Floors: 55
  • Style: Postmodern
Bloomberg Tower Suggested Reading

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