Walking west on 19th Street, the new condominium tower known as 100 Eleventh Avenue becomes visible through a break in the trees near the corner of 9th Avenue. From that vantage point, the building looks unassuming. Designed by Pritzker Prize–winning Jean Nouvel, the rear of the condominium is charcoal gray brick with a barely discernible, irregular patchwork of punched windows, not altogether unlike the buildings between 9th and 10th avenues, a motley collection of converted warehouses and housing projects. The somber side conceals the building’s riotous curtain wall just around the corner.
The block between 10th and 11th, however, where 100 Eleventh sits, is something else: a catalogue of contemporary architectural talent, with buildings by Annabelle Selldorf, Shigeru Ban, and Frank Gehry immediately across the street. Nouvel’s facade—a glittering jumble of rectilinear shapes that descends to its most complex at the podium, dissolving or breaking apart as if hitting the ground in a cascade— more than holds its own among its neighbors.
The developers of 100 Eleventh, Cape Advisors, acknowledge the building’s neo-Baroque level of articulation, but see it not as the culmination of a now vanished era of architectural excess, but rather as a unique profile that has suddenly become rare in our more chaste present. “You couldn’t get a building like this underwritten today,” said David Comfort, a senior executive at Cape Advisors. The developers believe the building offers something to buyers—opulent, eye-catching design, and unapologetic luxury— that puts it in league with uptown trophies like 15 Central Park West, albeit with a cutting-edge downtown spin.
"This is a building people either love or hate,” Comfort said. “Given the neighborhood— it’s an artistic area—our buyers tend to be in the arts or fashion. We’re not loaded up with Wall Streeters.” According to Comfort, 40 percent of the building has closed and another 20 percent is under contract. Recent deals have been struck at prices above 2007 levels—more than $2,000 per square foot, according to the developers—and a penthouse sold for $20 million.
Inside, the apartments, especially the full-floor upper units, serve up the spectacular, thanks in large part to the wraparound views of the Hudson, downtown, New Jersey, the rushing West Side Highway, and Hudson River Park, as well as the High Line and other architectural novelties in Chelsea. The panelized window units, seven on each floor, tend to recede from view with all the action outside. The rear of the building offers more selective vistas, its windows serving as frames above, below, and at eye level for postcard views of the Empire State and New York Times buildings.
The penthouse, with 14-foot ceilings that feel even higher thanks to Nouvel’s blinding white interiors, is fitted with custom light fixtures, white terrazzo floors and slab kitchen islands, and Corian cabinets and shelving all designed by the architect. Nouvel’s prototype electronic fixtures have been produced for the kitchen and bath. On the roof, a terrace is nearly equal to the size of the apartment. A curious “outdoor” area is carved out behind the facade with access from the living room; enclosed on all sides but open to the sky, it offers protection from the wind, but also suggests a very expensive fish tank for humans.
The interior spaces wrapped by the curve of the facade are somewhat programmatically ambiguous, even challenging. Floor slabs are extra thick to reduce the number of columns at the perimeter, leaving views largely unobstructed but also making for some awkward juxtapositions. (There are fireplaces without enough space for a couch in front of them, both in the living space and the master suite.) Columns pulled back from the curtain wall are wrapped in wall-like panels, from which the developers believe some owners will choose to extend walls or add doors.
The sense of spatial ambiguity is further dramatized in the building base, where the curtain wall extends out to the street, and is punctured by voids, as well as filled with outdoor rooms hung from the building frame. These lower units take full advantage of this indoor/ outdoor space, a detail that the developers believe will help sell the always less-desirable lower units. There will even be trees suspended in planters hung within this zone. Where the corner should meet, Nouvel has left a jagged edge.
One proviso: The building’s nearest neighbor on 11th Avenue is a women’s detention center, a holdover and reminder of the area’s recent, seedier past. Comfort said buyers are all well aware of their neighbors. In New York’s compressed urban conditions, such adjacencies happen often enough. At 100 Eleventh, the indoor/ outdoor lap pool and rear garden will be visible from the prison’s caged exercise areas. Is that provocative? Guilt-inducing? Cruel? Comfort said simply, “It’s New York.”