Tag Archives: postmodern

17 State Street

17 State Street is a stunning curved mirror-glass tower opposite Battery Park, framed in aluminum. The curved facade is not just for theatrics: that’s the shape of the lot, where State Street decides to switch from running north-south to east-west. The building floor plan resembles a quarter of a pie. Up close, you’ll also notice that there is no real first floor – just a glass-enclosed lobby (much like the Lever Building) and elevators; the building rests on cross-braced aluminum-clad columns.

The site has some history: it was the site of the Seaman’s Church Institute, and also the site of the house where Herman Melville was born, in 1819.

17 State Street Vital Statistics
17 State Street Recommended Reading

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Grace Building

The W. R. Grace Building is another example of “love it or hate it” architecture. Like near-twin Solow Building (9 W 57th Street) also designed by Gordon Bunshaft, the Grace Building’s swooping facades break up the “street walls” in front and back. If only the building were on a block by itself…

In a sense this is Bunshaft’s revenge: This is the rejected facade treatment that Bunshaft had first proposed for the Solow Building!

Grace Building Vital Statistics
Grace Building Recommended Reading

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U.S. Mission to the United Nations

The fortress-like Ronald H. Brown U.S. Mission to the United Nations replaces a 12-story glass-and-cast-stone slab on the same site. The stark white tower contrasts with the taller blue-green glass of UN Plaza, which wraps around the mission and adjacent Uganda House. Ronald H. Brown served as Secretary of Commerce under President Bill Clinton, and died in a plane crash while on a trade mission to Croatia.

While the need for more space dictated a new building, the need for security dictated the concrete construction, unflatteringly likened to a bunker. Inside the tower, staff and visitors even have separate elevators.

U.S. Mission to the United Nations Vital Statistics
U.S. Mission to the United Nations 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

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Aire is a glass residential tower adjacent to the former Red Cross blood center just north of Lincoln Center. The building’s complex wedge-shaped plan presents an almost knife-edged profile when viewed from the south. Like any reflective facade, Aire’s appearance changes at the whim of the weather.

The former Red Cross building, meanwhile, was razed and rebuilt as a mixed-use low-rise structure – four floors above ground, two floors below grade. The street-level and underground floors are retail space, the upper floors are earmarked for community use.

The residential tower is a luxury rental building – a 2BR apartment lists for $14,000/month. The building’s amenities, however, are comparable to a luxury condominium: Landscaped private park, onsite health club, children’s indoor and outdoor play areas, and more. Not to mention awesome location – Central Park is two blocks east, Lincoln Center is two blocks south, Riverside Park is two blocks west.

Aire Vital Statistics
Aire Recommended Reading

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Chelsea Modern

Chelsea Modern is a stunning, award-winning residential design with innovative features – and with a perfect companion building next door on West 18th Street. Even with its mid-block location, the 12-story zig-zagging blue glass facade stands out.

Architect Audrey Matlock took a page from Ludwig Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building – perfectly matched window blinds are built in, so that no one can destroy the symmetry or color of the facade by installing, say, calico curtains. But condo buyers can alter their floor plans somewhat – some of the bedroom walls are movable. Handy when you need to make the guest room less hospitable. You can open the windows at Chelsea Modern – but not by sliding or swinging the sash: It moves straight out, parallel to the side of the building. Fresh air enters (or your culinary excesses exit) around the sides of the sash.

As with anything radical, Chelsea Modern has its passionate detractors. They lament “there goes the neighborhood” as historic architecture is razed and glazed. (See the Jeremiah’s Vanishing New York blog. Even if you don’t agree with the author, you have to appreciate the writing.) Two warehouses died in the making of this building.

Chelsea Modern Vital Statistics
Chelsea Modern Recommended Reading

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459 W 18th Street

459 W 18th Street so perfectly complements Chelsea Modern, the condo next door, you might think that they were one building. That’s quite a trick, considering that the two structures have different heights, widths, orientations, colors and materials – not to mention architects.

But 459’s vertically-aligned angles and stark black and white aluminum panels paradoxically marry the blue and white glass and horizontal lines of Chelsea Modern.

459 W 18th Street Vital Statistics
459 W 18th Street Recommended Reading

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IAC Building

“Starchitect” Frank Gehry’s first New York building, IAC Building, resembles billowing sails – appropriate, just across 11th Avenue from the Hudson River.

The building’s skin is fritted glass – glass panels with ceramic paint heat-fused to the surface. This high-tech finish keeps the building cooler, but (at least in this application) looks a bit like it was spray-painted white. (Visit the IAC HQ website for short time-lapse construction videos; you’ll see the building’s concrete skeleton without the glass skin.)

There are no windows with traditional frames – continuous ribbon windows are formed by the non-fritted band of glass on each floor. There very nearly are no exterior doors – the exterior openings are small, minimally framed glass doors. The main entrance, on W 18th Street, has a tiny flat glass canopy. The rear service and garage entrances have no canopy.

IAC Building Vital Statistics
IAC Building Recommended Reading

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Time Warner Center

Time Warner Center was controversial from the moment it was conceived – years before that name was even attached. Now that Time Warner is moving downtown to the Hudson Yards, who knows what new controversies will arise.

The oddly shaped site on Columbus Circle was inherited from the Coliseum, the Robert Moses-sponsored exhibition hall that was partly financed by federal slum clearance funds. Critics contend that the Coliseum was too small when it went up in 1956. In 1985 New York City and the MTA started shopping for a new developer. After nearly 14 years of design, political, and legal battles, Related Companies and Time Warner came up with the winning bid and design.

The project came with challenges: it had to follow the curve of Columbus Circle while aligning with the street grid – including angled Broadway; it had to include a “view corridor” of at least 65 feet; it had to contain less than 2.1 million square feet of space. (Like Grimm’s “Peasant’s Wise Daughter,” commanded to go to the king “neither naked nor clothed, neither walking nor riding, neither on the road nor off it.”)

Time Warner Center is actually five buildings: Offices and television studios for Time Warner; the One Central Park residential condominium tower; the Mandarin Oriental hotel tower; the Jazz at Lincoln Center performance halls; and The Shops at Columbus Center (originally the Palladium). While David Childs of Skidmore, Owings & Merrill was responsible for overall design, each block had its own architectural team. As reported by The New York Times, Rafael Viñoly Architects designed Jazz at Lincoln Center; Perkins & Will, the Time Warner headquarters; Elkus/Manfredi Architects, the Palladium; Brennan Beer Gorman Architects and Hirsch Bedner Associates, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel; and Ismael Leyva Architects and Thad Hayes, One Central Park.

The result, which The New York Times in 2001 termed “like a giant tuning fork vibrating to the zeitgeist,” had mixed reviews. On completion in 2004, The Times gushed, “the building has great glamour. It is far more romantic than the Jazz Age tributes conceived by Mr. Childs in his wanton postmodern youth. With 10 Columbus, the mood is modern noir. The two towers are worthy descendants of Radio City.”

New York Magazine credited Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM) with conquering the complexities, but picked apart the details. “SOM got the big, difficult moves right, but for the success of any building to be complete, design decisions must reinforce each other consistently down the drafting chain. Unfortunately, sometime after the conceptual stages, SOM suffered a failure of attention span.”

Probably all will agree that Time Warner Center (whatever its future name) is a massive improvement over Robert Moses’ Coliseum.

Time Warner Center Vital Statistics
Time Warner Center Recommended Reading

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Bank of America Tower

Bank of America Tower is a model architectural and environmental citizen, despite its height: Easy on the eyes and on resources.

Although BoAT is New York’s third-tallest* skyscraper, it seems understated, just one of the crowd on 42nd Street.

Where it does stand out is its reflective, faceted design, which looks different from every angle and minute-by-minute. Bank of America Tower is surrounded by other glass buildings in different colors and patterns; their constantly changing hues, reflections and intersections are like a massive mobile. Looking up along the skin is akin to looking through a kaleidoscope.

Under the skin, Bank of America Tower is impressive for its environment-friendly features. BoAT used massive quantities of recycled materials in its construction; the building captures and uses rainwater; it has its own power plant; at night, when electrical demand is low, the building makes ice to use for cooling during peak-demand daylight hours. There’s much more – explore the Recommended Reading links below!

Bank of America Tower’s base includes the landmark Henry Miller’s Theatre (now named Stephen Sondheim Theatre) and Anita’s Way – a mid-block passageway between W 42nd and W 43rd Streets (named after Anita Durst, founder of Chashama, which transforms vacant properties into artists’ spaces). The southeast corner (6th Ave./W 43rd St.) includes an “Urban Garden Room” open to the public.

* Based on structural height, 1200 feet, which includes the spire.

Bank of America Tower Vital Statistics
Bank of America Tower Recommended Reading

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