Until 2004, Downtown Brooklyn was a checkerboard of gas stations, irregularly shaped parking lots, and blocks of brick rowhouses. But with a rezoning that year, the mile-long stretch of Flatbush Avenue from the Manhattan Bridge to the Atlantic Center mall was transformed, almost overnight, by a parade of luxury condo towers that soon started construction.
Of these half-dozen monoliths, one stands out among the rest. Eschewing the brick facades and square sides that characterize so many apartment buildings in the city, SOM has created a tower unlike any of its immediate neighbors, and even most other buildings in the city, which is precisely what developer Don Capoccia wanted. “We knew there’d be a lot of product coming on the market around the same time,” the BFC Partners principal said, “and we wanted a building that would really stand out from everything around it.”
Devised during the height of the real estate boom, the sleek, sustainable tower called Toren (that’s tower in Dutch) was designed to draw people across the city, not only those fleeing Manhattan’s skyrocketing prices, but those drawn to its unusual curtain wall, jagged shape, and staggered unit layout.
When the housing bubble burst, it was that difference from the norm that guaranteed BFC would have little trouble completing it. It helped that the developer also served as construction manager. “Now, in hindsight, this was still the right decision to make,” Capoccia said. “If we hadn’t, I think we’d be in kind of a jam.”
Toren began as one of those odd-shaped parking lots, acquired in 2006 by BFC after the rezoning. (The firm specializes in emerging neighborhoods, working previously in the East Village in the 1990s and more recently in Harlem.) And in spite of SOM’s limited experience with housing, particularly in the city, Capoccia turned to the firm because he knew one of its principals, David Childs, from their time together some ten years ago on the U.S. Commission for the Arts. Childs directed Capoccia to Roger Duffy, a young partner and one of SOM’s top designers. “How do you go wrong hiring SOM to design a tower?” Capoccia said.
One of the first design decisions Duffy made was to respect the street grid, turning Toren into a rhomboid tower with an almost Flatiron aspect. “We proposed a building that had an indeterminate quality, where you couldn’t tell what exactly the shape was,” Duffy said. This illusion is heightened by the pixilated curtain wall of light and dark glass and dimpled metal panels, which masks the building’s vertical structure without making it look overly tall.
This “camouflaging technique,” as Duffy describes it, was drawn into the building’s composite plinth, where the pattern was repeated with an added depth, at times up to two feet, to provide a dynamic vista for cars passing by. The plinth has the occasional turret reaching up into the tower so the two read as a cohesive object.
Duffy said this approach was essential as the building occupies the entire zoning envelope, unlike, say, Lever House, which was under-built by half. “We couldn’t just create a compelling form,” Duffy said. “Few maxed-out buildings are beautiful objects because zoning isn’t about beauty. But here, I think we really achieved something special.”
Another unusual twist for SOM was the chance to design the building’s interiors, including the “amenities spaces” typical of most luxury condos, and they were fit together in a multifloor Tetris layout not unlike the units, with the fitness room looking down on the pool and a double-height library.
As for the 240 units themselves, there is great variety among them, as SOM created a digital model of the neighborhood and determined the best views for each unit based on their surroundings on all 38 floors. Coupled with the building’s unusual shape, it makes for some unorthodox living spaces. Thus far, the building is 50 percent sold, with penthouse units priced between $995,000 and $1.695 million.
Sustainability was also a high priority, including standard features like low-e glass, but the team also sought out innovative solutions, such as preferred parking for hybrid cars and a cogeneration plant in the building. The hope is to achieve a LEED Gold rating. “I think in this down market, this attention to detail has helped him do well,” Duffy said. “So many of these new buildings, they call them ‘luxury’ and they’re not. But here, I think it truly fits.”