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Crocs Treads Lightly with Soho Flagship
When shoe retailer Crocs set its sights on Soho, the blogosphere didn’t hesitate grouching about the rubber clog emporium’s arrival at the corner of Spring and Wooster streets. What was feared as an assault of global branding, however, has become an unlikely symbol of a sea change for New York City’s Landmarks Preservation Commission, which pushed for a modern, glassy volume in the heart of the historic cast-iron district. The project began in 2006, when Crocs signed a 20-year lease for 4,800 square feet for its New York flagship. At that time, the three-story corner house was in bad shape. Built in 1818 as a single-family residence, it had undergone six renovations and most recently housed a Tennessee Mountain restaurant. Because of its age and location, any alterations of the Federal-era building needed LPC approval, and thus began a year-long saga with five public hearings that resulted in the unusually contemporary structure in the center of Soho. Heading up design work for both building exteriors, New York architect William J. Rockwell proposed a restoration for the old townhouse based on a photograph from the 1920s. The first twist Rockwell encountered concerned a three-story, 1925 garage attached to the old house, which had undergone many alterations and was set to be demolished. To replace the structure, Rockwell suggested a simple building that resembled the old garage­­. But to his surprise, LPC preferred a modern transitional glass piece instead. The idea was that the townhouse would be better expressed if accompanied by an almost invisible structure, which at the same time could reinforce the street wall along Wooster. “The fact that it could be more transparent and modern was very exciting,” said Rockwell. “In the ten last ten years, Landmarks has been more and more interested in different expressions if it can serve the purpose of representing history,” he added. “And in this case it does.” The first order of business was to shore up the historic house. Working with ELAN General Contracting, the team re-bricked the south face of the old corner building, salvaging some of the original brick, and replaced dilapidated brownstone lintels and sills with cast stone that resembled the originals. The adjacent facade was covered in new cedar shingles over a wood frame, a typical Federal 1920s design. Replacement wooden clapboards were used on the west and north facades, new multi-pane windows inserted, and the original gambrel roof lifted to its present configuration. A wood-and-glass storefront flanking a chamfered entrance was also kept, having been the house’s first transformation. Its original columns were saved, but stainless steel replaced the storefront’s wooden frame as a more modern and durable alternative. The Wooster Street addition is a much bolder story. Here, a structural system in finned glass and zinc-coated panels was designed to reveal most of the original house’s features. The flat roof was pushed back, while panels of 18-inch-deep structural glass and metal spring plates hold up the walls. At the north wall, the glass was put into a metal channel inserted from floor to ceiling in the old building. The palette of zinc and coated copper was picked to correspond with the weathered steel in the area. With taller buildings nearby, the new glass structure could theoretically have been made six stories high. This, however, wasn’t something either LPC or Crocs desired. From Crocs’ point of view, additional floor plates were not seen as viable for commercial or residential use, given a plate area of only 1,000 square feet. LPC, on the other hand, did not want the old structure to be obscured. “In New York, you always want to maximize square footage, but because of the old building, it is very hard to make use of that area,” said Rockwell. Inside the store, which opened in May, a ceiling height of almost 30 feet creates a spacious feeling. An elevated mezzanine surrounds the space, a remnant from the 1970s, when the building was a sushi restaurant. Salvaged hand-hewn trusses and an exposed brick wall contrast with the modern retail interior, designed by the Crocs team with architect Donald W. Laukka of L&M Associates, who helped plan interior improvements and mechanical systems. Up the new curved staircase, the transparent addition allows a view over the vibrant street below, as well as a closer look at the restored northern facade of the old townhouse. “When a lot of people think of restoration, they think of historical accuracy,” concluded Rockwell. “But in New York City, there is some flexibility, and that is why we have buildings like this.”
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NYU Takes a Village with Campus Plan
NYU has proposed a fourth tower (center) for I.M. Pei' Silver Tower complex on Houston. Designed by Grimshaw, it needs Landmarks approval.
Courtesy NYU

A stroll along Washington Square South provides a good primer on NYU’s approach to development in recent decades. On one side is the park, former stomping grounds of O’Neill, Dylan, and Jacobs. On the other, a stretch of stone-faced institutional buildings, their imposing facades beckoning exclusively to students and faculty with a severity alien to the lively mood that otherwise energizes Greenwich Village. In the bad old days, these buildings were constructed in an as-of-right, piecemeal fashion with little community input.


The new tower mimicks its neighbors, though its proportions and height (38 versus 30 stories) vary. (Click to zoom)
 

sequestered open space at Washington Square Village will be replced with two towers and a two-story academic building below grade with a sunken garden.
 

Now the school is attempting a different approach, creating a masterplan that maps out the creation of roughly six million square feet in the city over the next two decades, an effort university officials said has been rooted in thorough planning and outreach. Yet despite the change in tactics, many in the community remain wary as ever, saying the university continues to ignore local input.

NYU is in fact looking as far away as downtown Brooklyn and Governors Island for opportunities, yet the heart of its plan—and of the university—remains in the blocks surrounding Washington Square Park, known as the Core. The university wants to put nearly half its new development in the area, much of it focused on the two Robert Moses superblocks north of Houston Street: Washington Square Village and the landmarked Silver Towers. By concentrating development in these already dense areas owned by the university, officials say, NYU can avoid buying up more of the Village.

The university and its designers—Grimshaw, Toshiko Mori, and Michael Van Valkenburgh—are proposing four thoughtful, albeit large, buildings that strive to minimize their impact on the neighborhood by peeling back the problematic parts of the superblocks, including serpentine fencing and landscapes, dreary street frontage, and a hodgepodge of circulation paths in order to create a more inviting environment.

Mori said the idea is to work within the logic of the disparate superblocks, where a plan for three slab buildings was abandoned by the original developer in the face of economic challenges in the late 1950s. Two of these Paul Lester Weiner–designed slabs were built, becoming Washington Square Village, which NYU then acquired along with the site of Silver Towers, which were built the following decade. “This is not a tabula rasa,” Mori said. “We’re not replacing the buildings but rationalizing, enhancing, and making them better.”

The first piece of the plan to enter public review will be a tower designed by Grimshaw for the Silver Towers site. Rising to 38 stories (eight more than its neighbors), the new tower will pay tribute to I.M. Pei’s distinctive facades with its own inventive glass treatment. The tower consists of four L-shaped volumes, with two elevated to create transparency and entrances, one for residents, the other for a controversial hotel.

Because the Landmarks Preservation Commission landmarked not only Pei’s three towers but the grounds surrounding them, NYU must seek its approval to build the new tower in line with Wooster Street, which the designers argue creates the best sight lines within the complex. The grocery store at the corner of LaGuardia Place and Bleecker Street would be replaced with an underground garage and a playground on top; the designers could have built here as of right, but prefer not to.

A playground will replace a Morton Williams grocery store, a move NYU argues creates more and better open space on the Silver Towers site.
 
Otherwise an ungainly as-of-right building would be built on the grocery.

To the east of the towers is the squat Coles athletic center, which would be demolished to make way for the 17-story, Zipper Building, so called for the light wells creating bays in the structure’s upper half. The Zipper would accommodate both a new grocery store and academic space.

The most complicated piece of the plan is at Washington Square Village. The designers are proposing to replace a park and underground parking lot between the extant slab buildings with a two-level, 500,000-square-foot academic building below grade. In the center, a sunken garden would provide natural light into the space inspired, according to the architects, by Dominique Perrault’s Bibliotheque Nationale in Paris.

The designers say they want to crete a Bryant Park feel within the new Washington Square Village open space. One of the new towers, which reflect light down into the subteranean building, is at center.
 
Currently the space between the Washington Square Village slabs is a tangle of fences and confusing circulation.
Otterman56/Flickr

Bookending the site would be two more academic towers, one of which may also include an elementary school, a nod to the community. Rising up to 8 stories on LaGuardia Place and up to 17 on Mercer Street, the buildings are crescent-shaped in a yin-and-yang layout meant to reflect light into the heart of the new quad. NYU intends to take the entire project before the City Planning Commission next year, after Landmarks determines what, if anything, can be built on the Silver Towers site.

In spite of NYU’s efforts, the community is not happy with the ambitious plan. In part, their anger is based on a 2007 promise NYU made not to pursue non-essential development within the Core. NYU counters that it has reduced the amount of its development and concentrated it within a tight footprint. “For them to turn around and stab us in the back so quickly is unconscionable,” one local resident said. “Some of us tried to maintain as much goodwill as possible, but I don’t see how that is possible anymore.”

A model showing the new buildings at Washington Square Village (left), Grimshaw's Tower (center right), and Mori's Zipper Building (top right).
courtesy GVSHP

There is also rage about the proposed hotel and NYU’s apparent disinterest in considering Lower Manhattan because of its distance from the Core. That NYU presented it as a single ULURP rather than phased per project has attracted particular vitriol.

Just as when Moses created these superblocks a half-century ago, the designs on paper meet far different conditions on the ground. The university needs to expand; the community doesn’t want 2.6 million square feet of new development. The density, if not the design, is as of right. This being New York, it just might happen. This being the Village, it just might not.

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Extell Has French Kiss for de Portzamparc
Extell's Riverside Center is one of two major projects by Christian de Portzamparc, with 3 million square feet of the architect's distincively shaped buildings. (Click
Courtesy Extell

Christian de Portzamparc’s name has barely been heard in New York since his LVMH Tower on 57th Street went up in 1999, a harbinger of wave of brand-name architecture that followed, a wave from which the Pritzker Prize winner was conspicuously absent. But while few firms are currently working in New York, Atelier Christian de Potzamparc is poised for a comeback as it gets underway with two of its largest projects to date—and two of the largest anywhere in the city—the Riverside Center and Carnegie 57, both for flourishing diamond-dealer-turned-developer Gary Barnett and his Extell Development Company.


Curved setbacks and alternating columns of glass give Carnegie 57 a cascading aspect. (Click to zoom)
 

“They’re very reasonable, they’re not prima donnas,” Barnett said in an interview. “We give them all kinds of challenges to hit and they do. They’re creative and also able to handle the challenges of building in New York and designing in New York and keeping the budget in mind while still coming up with something spectacular.”

Both the Riverside Center and Carnegie 57 present considerable challenges. The former occupies the final site at Riverside South, an 8 acre space that was originally designated for a 2 million-square-foot TV studio. Instead, Barnett has proposed a 3-million-square-foot residential complex with six signature crystalline towers by de Portzamparc. The City Planning Commission certified the project on May 24, kicking off the seven-month public review process.

The following day, the announcement of Carnegie 57 made the front page of The New York Times touting that it would become the tallest residential tower in the city at 1,005 feet, surpassing both Frank Gehry’s Beekman Tower (867 feet) and the Trump World Plaza (861 feet). More noteworthy, perhaps, is the fact that the tower, which Barnett hopes will command the highest prices in the city, is coming along at a time when the economy is improving but far from the heights of architectural bombast just a few years ago.

And this was no spec rendering. Foundation work began on Carnegie 57 in April and steel girders should be rising above the sidewalk by the end of the month. Barnett had been trying to make the site—near 7th Avenue, across from Carnegie Hall—larger but he wound up with an offset-L where the 57th Street frontage is 159 feet compared to 78 feet on 58th Street.

Riveside Center (far right) is the last piece of the Riverside South development begun in the early 1990s. (click to zoom)

André Terzibachian, a de Portzamparc principal, said the greatest challenge for the designers was determining how to take this unusual lot, along with the strict setbacks mandated by the zoning code, and craft it into an elegant, cohesive tower. The expense of such a tall building, to say nothing of the exacting expectations of Barnett, meant no wasted space or room for architectural flourish. Still, De Portzamparc managed to work some in, curving the setbacks to create a cascading effect, which is further heightened by alternating columns of light and dark glass. “It expresses New York’s vertical energy,” Terzibachian said.

The east and west facades are more like cuts than cascades—in part because the vertical reflections had to be masked in the crook of the L. The designers created what they call a semi-abstracted “Klimt” pattern, which employs a third type of glass to create a surface reminiscent of an Adele Bloch-Bauer dress. The most difficult part of the design was making it all invisible from the inside. “Our client’s concern is that it had to be as nice as possible, not too aggressive,” Terzibachian said, though this was achieved through a proprietary glass treatment.

Carnegie 57 will be the tallest residential building in the city when it is completed, with commanding views of Central Park. The "Klimt" facade can be seen in the crux of the building. (Click to zoom)
Courtesy New York Observer

Still, even the fanciest foreign architecture cannot please everyone, though there are some who it must. At the Riverside Center certification hearing, City Planning Commission Chair Amanda Burden expressed great concern that Barnett is hueing to Riverside South's previously established 12 percent affordability requirement, as opposed to the 20 percent the Bloomberg administration has essentially mandated for large-scale development projects. "We expect to come to an agreement on that," Burden said.

The local community board, which will vote on the project by the end of July, also maintains the project is too large and cloistered, with 3.2 acres of open space meant more for residents of the complex than their neighbors. Extell did a fair amount of outreach going in, repeatedly meeting with the community about the project and even reducing the height of the two western towers by at least a dozen stories each, though their western counterparts each creeped up a few floors and all the towers were bulked up to compensate.

a cafe and water feature at the center of Riverside Center. Some community members worry about how public these spaces will be.
Courtesy Extell

It is these sorts of negotiations, tradeoffs, and challenges that de Portzamparc finds thrilling. "New York has always been a source of inspiration," Terzibachian said. "His theories about the open block were very much informed by New York and his trips here when he was a student."

The firm has not exactly been idle in the city, with some 10 projects that nearly came to fruition, though none ever crossed the threshold into the public realm. Terzibachian said that de Portzamparc has also kept a tight rein on the firm, selectively choosing his work for maximum creative control and to avoid corporatism. And while this approach may not achieve the most buildings, it keeps the firm's roughly 80 employees busy, even during the downturn. "We have had no layoffs," Terzibachian said. Even the failed projects can lead to work, as one, a jagged condo tower on Park Avenue South, was the catalyst for the firm's introduction to Extell, as the developer of that project recommended the firm. Its first task was a series of feasibility studies for Carnegie 57 in 2006.

Barnett demurs at the suggestion that brand-name architecture is a new approach for his firm, which has worked in the past with the likes of Kostas Kondylis, Lucien Legrange, Cetra/Ruddy, and Cook + Fox. “We seek out the right architect and the right aesthetic for each project,” he said. Still, with more high-profile projects underway, such as SOM’s Gem Tower in the Diamond District and KPF’s World Commerce Centre on the Far West Side, Barnett said he will continue to work with good firms. Such as? “You’ll have to wait and see,” he said.

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Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health
The entrance to the Lou Ruvo Center uses Gehry's signature steel folds to create an inviting canopy.
Michael Webb

Frank Gehry once vowed never to build in Las Vegas, a place where serious architecture is submerged in a tsunami of kitsch, or fatally compromised by commercial imperatives. Larry Ruvo, who made a fortune as Nevada’s chief liquor distributor, refused to take “no” for an answer. He has been a passionate supporter of Alzheimer’s research since the loss of his father, Lou, to that disease.

Having formed an alliance with a major medical institution, he wanted a building that would be a magnet. He persuaded Gehry that this was a worthy cause and gave him creative freedom to design a research facility linked to an events space that would play a supporting role by generating income from rentals. The Cleveland Clinic Lou Ruvo Center for Brain Health was inaugurated last Friday.

The center, while largely dedicated to research and treatment, also has an events space to help support its medical mission.

The new building is located far from the Strip, on the bleak north side of the city just off interstate 15. The small corner site is flanked by a vast and hermetically sealed design center, city offices that resemble a cartoon castle, and a future performing arts center and park. Gehry’s modestly scaled structure holds its own, presenting four distinct but interrelated faces to wide boulevards and parking lots.

The Life Activity Center, as the events space is known, is contained within an irregular cluster of sculptural forms, clad in brushed stainless plates with punched-out windows and skylight openings. This carapace swoops down over a courtyard as a bowed trellis, and the expanded openings cast a pattern of dappled shade over the pavers. A supporting skeleton of exposed steel beams links the public facility to the stacked white stucco blocks of treatment rooms, labs, and a fourth-floor office suite, all lit through expansive bay windows. Reception and a small library open off a breezeway, and the inner wall has panels of aqua, lemon, and red as a foil to the silver and white palette of the complex.

After two decades, Gehry still finds ways to keep his wrapped steel facades fresh.

Gehry’s sculpted stainless steel skin, which he first employed at the Weisman Art Museum in Minneapolis, has evolved over the past two decades to provide an ever-changing, yet immediately recognizable signature. To dismiss the architect as the metal man is absurd—his preferred material has unlimited expressive potential, and is rarely used in isolation.

At Ruvo, there’s a joyful exuberance and geometric invention that captures the spontaneity of conceptual models. In commissioning the Experience Music Project in Seattle, the client invited Gehry to be “swoopy”, but the excitement was all on the outside, relinquishing the interior to a conventional and claustrophobic set of exhibits. Here, inner and outer are closely integrated, and the rational. The intuitive wings of the building are linked like the two halves of the human brain—an apt image for this institution.

Much of the medical work is done in the stucco boxes, the different materials deliniating the different spaces, not unlike the left and right sides of a brain.

The Ruvo Center is also a reproach to the wasteful ways of Las Vegas, where scarce natural resources are squandered on golf courses, fountains, and blazing signage. Both blocks open up to the north, and the trellis deflects sunlight from a courtyard that is open to breezes from east and west. The small skylights and windows are triple glazed and can be shut off with motorized blinds. Building materials were sourced regionally. The clinic roof is white, cooling is automatically shut off whenever the buildings are not in use, and LED lighting proliferates. The landscaping even does its part, making inventive use of drought-resistant plantings.

This is also a rare instance of an architect exercising total control over a project, installing his own furniture and lighting and selecting the art. But the star of the show is the interior of the activity center, which is a true original, radically different in form and effect from anything that has come before. It evokes an enchanted forest glade, a soaring white billow of foliage, with 199 openings to admit natural light, partially supported on square trunks and angular branches. Two stylized trees are located inside the glass entry wall, which frames and reflects the complex structure over the courtyard.

The interiors are as expressive as the exteriors of the building, not always the case with Gehry's work.

Beyond this portal, everything seems to be in motion, swaying in a spectral wind that tosses branches every which way. In contrast to the rigor and symmetry of the Walt Disney Hall, this interior is simply an uplifting place to celebrate weddings, raise funds and party. Gehry has liberated his artistry from programmatic constraints and is able to turn gestures into a concrete form. Architecture has been likened to frozen music; here, music is on the boil. Surface and structure combine to tilt, dart, thrust and recede in ways that defy categorization.

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Here Is New York
Necking and Needlepoint on the High Line.
Harriet Andronikidis

Taking a snapshot of New York’s past decade of development is no easy feat, as the Architectural League learned after setting out to capture the cumulative impact of sundry megaprojects and rezonings, name-brand condominiums and newly-seeded parks, and a real estate landscape reeling from the recession.


The dynamic facades of Jean Nouvel's 100 Eleventh Avenue (left) and Frank Gehry's IAC headquarters.
Katherine Demetriou Sidelsky
 
 

In fact, it took nearly 100 photographers, six months, and more than 4,500 images to get a grip on the five boroughs. This visual inventory was amassed by volunteer architects and designers dubbed the New New York Photography Corps, who canvassed every corner of the city in an homage to Berenice Abbott’s Changing New York photo essay of the 1930s. Their group portrait, pared to 1,000 photographs, is on view through June 26 as the centerpiece of the League’s exhibition, The City We Imagined/The City We Made: New New York 2001–2010, installed in a pop-up space at 250 Hudson Street.

“They decided this would be a WPA-type project, offering architects who are underemployed a chance to stay involved, look at the city, look at the changes, and use a skill that probably everybody has—and that’s taking pictures,” said Erica Stoller, director of Esto, the architectural photo agency that advised on the project.

After the League summoned interested participants, Esto photographers conferred with the corps, then took part in marathon review sessions to winnow the images down, a process Stoller acknowledges was somewhat unscientific. “A picture has to be full of information, it has to be clear, and it has to look good, too,” she said. “But what I found curious was that we could have sat down with the same group of people and chosen all different images.”

For their part, photographers were obliged to ruthlessly edit their submissions. “I shot more than I ever thought I would—hundreds of pictures,” said Sara Moss, an architectural designer at AECOM who devoted her after-work hours to exploring Lower Manhattan, Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, and the Far West Village. The project, she added, proved a refreshing counterpoint to her day job working on the Second Avenue subway: “It reminded me of the big picture.”

Along with the photographs, the show includes a timeline of development milestones since 2001 and video interviews with notable New York figures. “The third section of the exhibition is a bit more critical,” said Gregory Wessner, digital programs and exhibitions director at the League. “We asked 14 different New Yorkers, from a variety of community, civic, and preservation groups, the same eight questions.” The exhibit also offers opportunities for viewers to comment on all the development, making for an appropriately open-ended urban portrait.

View a slideshow of New New York phtos on the A|N Blog.

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New Age Modern
The houses showcased in this year’s AIA SF Home Tours in Marin County have a common theme in their responsive attitude to the landscape; permeable skins allowing a transparent transition between interior and exterior, embedding into their sites, and visually enlarging the volume of their comparatively modest footprints on steeply situated hillside lots. Each of the homes have unassuming public facades, displaying a circumspect propriety among its neighbors. The architecture of these residences say as much about their setting as the spaces inside. The heavily wooded and circuitous single lane roads of Mill Valley necessitated the use of shuttle buses to travel to several of the homes. The town’s residential architecture reveals its historical evolution from mill town to beatnik refuge to hippie commune, to wealthy upper middle-class San Francisco enclave. The Sausalito Residence by 450 Architects recalls the boxy residential minimalism of William Wurster. Its steel frame is wrapped by an FSC certified wood skin and interior finishes milled by the contractor Quantum Builders, who are part of the Passive House movement in California. Inside, the open plan living and dining room opens out to expansive views of Richardson Bay. Its copper roof collects rainwater for the home’s cistern, while its glass facades serve to bring in light and warmth to this passive solar house design. The extensive electronic circuitry pervading the automated functions of the house can be controlled from the owner’s mobile phone. The stark enclosed volumes of the Portnoy Danzig Residence in Mill Valley by Sharon Portnoy Design shut off noise and traffic on the street side; by contrast, the interior living and dining spaces have a glass façade that wraps around a lawn with views of Mount Tampalpais beyond. Clean lines, natural wood and concrete, and use of spot colors enliven the rooms of this very family oriented residence. The Lovell House was a labor of love by architects Cecilia and Alfred Quezada, who spent 14 years renovating and expanding the original 1950s shed roof redwood box house for themselves. Though the architects grew the house from 1000 to almost 4000 square feet, the building manages to rest on the property rather discreetly, retaining low sightlines and instead preferring to build down into the hillside. An architect’s potpourri of materials is shown in the building’s exposed steel siding, maple, cherry, and fir walls and cabinets, monolithic black granite countertops, marble slab walls, and exposed concrete foundations. Extensive use of steel sash windows recall the original industrial windows, while translucent Kalwall ceilings bring in bright diffuse light into the kitchen and living areas. Architect Scott Lee’s Hillside Residence, situated on a steeply angled lot, necessitated building up four levels to capture space and views. Meticulously detailed and constructed by contractor McDonald Construction and Development, this LEED Platinum certified house has the zen feel of a luxury spa, unsurprisingly since one of the owners is a spa development executive. The owners, contractor, and interior designer Erin Martin worked closely with a multitude of talented metal, wood, and concrete craftspeople to create a warm and sophisticated handcrafted aesthetic that takes advantage of local artisans and recycled materials. The relatively modest sizes of the interior spaces are enlarged by opening up to expansive outdoor decks, incorporating surrounding views. The anomaly and arguably the highlight of the tour was a project done fifty years earlier by architect Daniel Liebermann, and recently renovated with tactful discretion by Vivian Dwyer. Studying at the Harvard GSD during the Gropius era and apprenticing with Wright (he worked on the Marin County Civic Center), Liebermann’s work seems to have experienced a bit of a reconsideration in light of the recent buzz around sustainable design; his projects remind us that the modernists were interested in green building long before it was fashionable and associated with filling out a list of design credits. The quirky crescent shaped design of the 1960 Radius House (a cross of Wright, Bruce Goff, and Mill Valley vernacular) which Liebermann built for himself, springs out of a spiralling helix of metal columns supporting a radiating assymmetrical timber roof. The house is constructed from recycled wood, local stone, and uses a concrete slab floor for passive heating, and a double shell roof for ventilation and services. Nestled into the hillside, its compact 850 square feet footprint is miniscule by today’s standards, yet feels much larger because of its long curvilinear open plan and continuous glass facade facing a forested canyon view. A massive hand laid stone fireplace helps to bind the house to its site, and serves to reinforce the idea that a house can be situated as part of the landscape, rather than being simply relating to it. It is a lesson well worth appreciating in understanding what sustainable design thinking can be today.

Home Movies at Tribeca
Susan Morris sends along her recommendations for the Tribeca Film fest, which ends Sunday, including her favorite, My Queen Karo, above. For those interested in films that include architecture, a number of entries in the 2010 Tribeca Film Festival may be of perplexing interest. Striking, in particular, is the number of films where homes are the sights of hothouse mayhem. Here’s my guide to who did what to whom and, above all, where. It’s moving day in the wry Academy Award-winning short The New Tenants (directed by Joachim Back) for a bickering yet loving gay couple who move into a drab apartment in an outer borough. Unbeknownst to them, a murder has taken place there, and, one-by-one, the oddball characters who reveal the apartment’s grizzly history are the un-welcome wagon that disrupts their lives. Dream Home (directed by Pang Ho-cheung) with the tag line is “What would you do, if someone blocked your view?” takes the greedy building bubble of high-rise apartment blocks in Hong Kong to an extreme. Purportedly based on a true story, a woman whose life has been shaped by the teardowns that destroyed her childhood neighborhood and replaced it with massive high-rises (and where gangs assist the government in ejecting tenants). Her compulsive aspiration is to acquire an apartment in the building that replaced her childhood home with a view of Victoria Harbour. This desire leads to a calculated murderous rampage. The director said she’s “killing astronomical property prices….[in a] bloody protest against the property developers who continuously inflate Hong Kong’s housing market,” only to be thwarted by the subprime mortgage crisis once she acquires her flat. Even the opening title sequence is laced with blueprints in three languages. Open House (directed by Andrew Paquin) begins with a realtor touting the spatial flow of a cold, sterile house to prospective buyers. The house soon becomes a prison for the owner after a psychopathic house hunter hides in the basement during the open house event, and entraps her in the crawl space while he plays house with his girlfriend. The director wanted to explore impulses “even darker than the physical horror of home invasion.” The Disappearance of Alice Creed (directed by J Blakeson) is a DIY guide for converting an abandoned apartment into a soundproof, secure kidnapping lair. Inspiration came from David Lean’s BRIEF ENCOUNTER where lovers borrow a friend’s apartment for a tryst that in turn inspired Billy Wilder’s more cynical THE APARTMENT where a striver lends out his place for multiple flings and films in general, said the director, that are “based around one location – Repulsion, Shallow Grave, The Shining and so on. That sense of growing unease you get from The Shining really inspired me.” My pick is My Queen Karo (directed by Dorothée van den Berghe) that sensitively mines the director’s own experiences growing up in a utopian squat in 1970s Amsterdam. Parents Raven and Dalia with their 10-year old daughter Karo leave Belgium for Holland to start a commune based on shared money, shared ideals, shared sex, and a commitment to a redistribution of realty by ending property ownership. Inside the loft they commandeer, even the space is shared; it is only demarcated, at Karo’s request, by a taped-off outline on the floor delineating her “room.” The squat veers from being a shelter to theater set to fortress. In addition, there’s Please Give (directed by Nicole Holofcener) with its almost mainstream cast including Catherine Keener and Oliver Platt. Kate (Keener) and Alex (Platt) have purchased the next-door apartment in their Lower Fifth Avenue building, which is still inhabited by the crotchety, elderly Andra. While they await the moment they can enlarge their home, the couple work in their 10th Avenue store specializing in mid-century modern furniture purchased from “the children of dead people” who sell off their deceased parents’ possessions. In Every Day (directed by Richard Levine), a television writer who works at the Steiner Studios in the Brookyn Navy Yard, enjoys her lucrative recompense in a penthouse apartment atop the Hotel on Rivington. Short films of interest include Walkway (by Ken Jacobs), an expressionistic rendering of a wooden walkway that throws out the notion of terra firma; Collision of Parts (by Mark Street) a kaleidoscope of New York City and other urban streetscapes with facades set in motion while walking, running and driving; and Berlin (by Martin Laporte), comprised of B&W and color stills of the city depicting symbols of workers on building facades, transportation structures (train and metro stations), graffiti covered doorways, statuary, and spontaneous public art.
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TOREN
Toren has one of the most unusual facades in the city.
All photos by Michael Weinstein

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.


Toren is one of a parade of new towers rising above Flatbush Avenue. (Click to ZOom)
 
 

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.

SOM used parametric modeling to determine the best views for every apartment in the building.

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.

SOM designed the interior spaces as well as the facade, including kitchens and bathrooms, an unusual step for the firm.

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.

Some of the amenity spaces include a library, which can be seen from the workout room above, and a pool, all designed by SOM.

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.”

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Corb Steals the Scene
Le Corbusier's 1955 house, with its prominent brise soleil, is a central character in Mariano Cohn and Gaston Duprat's new film.
Mario Chierico

The Man Next Door
Directed by Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat

March 31
Museum of Modern Art
Roy and Niuta Titus Theater
1
11 West 53rd Street
New York, New York

April 1
Walter Reade Theater
165 West 65th Street
New York, New York

At the 2010 Sundance Film Festival in January, architecture was extolled, implicated, or otherwise showcased in several premieres. Last Address, a 9-minute elegy directed by Ira Sachs, depicts the facades of the final residences of New York City artists who died of AIDS. 12th & Delaware, by Rachel Grady and Heidi Ewing, profiles identical buildings at an intersection in Fort Pierce, Florida, one housing an abortion clinic, the other a pro-life headquarters, which are often mistaken for one other. I Am Love, by Luca Guadagnino and starring Tilda Swinton, takes place in the polished rooms of the Milanese villa of a wealthy industrial family, whose scion plans to meet Herzog & de Meuron.

But if a prize were given for best performance by a building, it would go to the Argentinian feature The Man Next Door, directed by Mariano Cohn and Gastón Duprat from a script by architect Andrés Duprat. That building would be the Curutchet House in La Plata, Argentina, Le Corbusier’s only residence in the Americas.


The house, shown in 2007, was originally built for a surgeon, Dr. Pedro Domingo Curutchet.
J. Malik

the small courtyard separated the house from a ground-floor medical clinic. 
Mario Chierico
 
 

The Man Next Door starts with a bang—literally. The opening features a split screen depicting a white stucco rectangle on the left and a field of black on the right. The relentless banging of a sledgehammer on the black side exposes a widening hole. Simultaneously, on the left side, the white stucco cracks. We’re on both sides of the wall at once.

The noise awakens Leonardo Kachanovsky, a 40-ish furniture designer, who sleepily shuffles across his Le Corbusier–designed residence to investigate. He passes a Corb chaise longue, Philippe Starck's transparent Louis Ghost chairs, and a Cristián Mohaded Biblioteca Cons slanted bookcase, and makes his way down the house’s signature ramp to discover illegal construction work underway next door.

A new window is being pounded out of a solid exterior wall to “catch some rays” —in full view of Leonardo’s rear facade.

The interaction that ensues between Leonardo, the world-renowned industrial designer—his award-winning Konchanovsky Chair (actually, the Batti-designed Placentero Chair) was named “seat of the year” at the fictional Stockholm Biennale—and his charismatic bruiser of a neighbor, Victor, strangely both affable and threatening (and decidedly lower-class; Leonardo calls him a troglodyte) is at the heart of this comic but trenchant film.

Who hasn’t feared a nightmare scenario involving an aggressive next-door neighbor armed with a construction crew? Disruptions at all hours, invasions of privacy, aesthetic heresies? The Man Next Door stirs the pot further, adding conflicts of class and social status to those of substance and style. 

Leonardo, the ostensibly self-satisfied Renaissance man, endures a litany of daily assaults. There’s his whiny bourgeois wife, Ana, who runs her yoga studio on the top floor, a circle of needy design students who bring models of Mies-derivative chaises for his evaluation, even a daily parade of architectural pilgrims who gather outside his landmark home. Then there’s his sullen teenage daughter, who is more charmed by the finger-puppet shows Victor stages in the makeshift proscenium of the questionable window aperture than the lame efforts of her priggish father. 

We follow Leonardo as he shows off features of the Curutchet House to his students: the poplar tree in the courtyard around which the house is built, the brise soleil on the front facade, the modular system based on human scale. He takes us up and down the ramps, into the bedrooms, offices, kitchen, and terraces and through the double-height living space, the site of a wonderfully pretentious scene of listening to avant-garde music with an artsy friend, appreciating the “random thumping” in the music delivered by a “sub-woofer” when in fact it’s Victor’s industrious hammering. 

The interior is fitted out with classic modernist furniture designs.
Mario Chierico

Kidnapping is not unknown in Argentina and Leonardo hires a security expert. With a landmark house with no gate, easy street access, glass everywhere, cheek-by-jowl with adjoining houses on small lots, security is a tall order. And he refuses to install bars that would mar Le Corbusier’s design. 

The Curutchet House, which starts off as emblematic of Leonardo’s perfectly constructed life—he even makes “designer chicken” for his guests—fractures in its meaning as The Man Next Door unfolds. It exposes his vulnerabilities and also his arrogance, selfishness, weak self-control, and ultimately, impotence. When the home is broken into by thieves, the separate actions of both Leonardo and Victor reveal the true nature of each man. Significantly, this takes place on Le Corbusier’s ramp.

The Man Next Door, which won a World Cinema Cinematography Award at Sundance, has its New York premiere at MoMA on March 31 as part of New Directors/New Films, co-sponsored by MoMA and the Film Society of Lincoln Center. It screens again at the Walter Reade Theater on April 1.

Read all of AN's Friday Reviews here.

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Nouvel Under the Sun
Fresh from landing the commission for the Serpentine Gallery’s annual summer pavilion in London, French architect Jean Nouvel was in New York yesterday for the official unveiling of the new National Museum in Doha, Qatar. Designed as a ring of low-lying, interlocking pavilions encircling a large courtyard, the 430,000-square-foot structure is created from sand-colored disks that define floors, walls, and roofs, almost as if growing out of the desert landscape. The inspiration for this poetic construction was the desert rose, a formation of crystallized mineral petals found in the briny layers just beneath the desert surface. “It is a kind of architecture in itself already,” Nouvel told AN at the project launch at the Museum of Modern Art. “It surprises you, it is a mystery that nature can create such a thing--and I like architecture that is mysterious, that makes you wonder.” The bladelike petals became the starting point for a monumental building that unfolds “in a rhythm of asymmetry,” according to Nouvel. The disks are of varying curvature and diameter, made of steel and clad in glass fiber reinforced concrete panels. Columns concealed within the vertical disks carry the loads of the horizontal members, while glazed facades fill the voids between them. Built for the Qatar Museums Authority, the museum will address three major themes in its exhibits: the natural history of the Qatar peninsula, the country’s social and cultural history, and the history of Qatar as a nation. Within the 12 permanent gallery spaces, exhibits will feature architectural artifacts, jewelry, and costumes, as well as displays about the modern oil industry and the region’s rapid urbanization. The new pavilion, which Nouvel also described as a modern-day caravanserai, will adjoin the Amiri Palace, a historic structure that has served as a museum of heritage since 1975. A landscaped park that interprets the Qatari desert landscape will surround the ensemble. Groundbreaking is set for this spring, with completion scheduled for 2013. When AN asked which of his current projects has inspired him the most, Nouvel hesitated, saying he has many “babies in his belly.” However, the Qatar museum appeared to be the front-runner. “This project is very exciting, because it fits exactly here and now,” Nouvel said. “It’s ici, et maintenant.
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Vicarious Living
The front parlor of the Malcolm McGregor House (1832) has the original fireplace.
Paul Rocheleau

The Houses of Greenwich Village
By Kevin D. Murphy, photography by Paul Rocheleau
Abrams, $45.00

New York is a city of neighborhoods. Many appear in fiction, but very few get architectural coverage. Greenwich Village is the exception. As the most storied place in Gotham, the Village has been well researched, has its own historical society, and its streets have been photographed by everyone from Edward Steichen to Annie Liebowitz. Nearly every New Yorker has her favorite haunt, a bistro, bar, or street corner with an indelible memory attached.


The attic of the cornelius Oakley House (1828) has been converted into an artist's studio
 

One might, then, be nonplussed to find another book on the quaint row houses that make up most of this intimate place of twisted streets and artsy cafes. Kevin Murphy’s new treatment has an advantage that no previous book can boast: beautiful photographs of the interiors of many houses not normally open to the public. As in his previous book on the American town house, the author gets right to the heart of his subject and provides fascinating stories on both the houses and the people who built them. Paul Rocheleau provides the splendid photographs.

The two have chosen 20 of the most interesting houses in the Village and devoted a substantial photo essay to each, with accompanying text. Their book is nicely designed and produced by Abrams, the noted art book publisher. This book would make an excellent gift for your friends with an interest in New York and its architecture.

Murphy’s short essay on the history of the Village covers no new ground, and might well have been more specific about the kinds of houses that were chosen for case studies. It has the advantage of presenting street scenes in historic photos from the collection of the Historic American Buildings Survey in the 1930s, a nice contrast to the vivid color photos by Rocheleau. But most of the interesting narrative is reserved for the individual houses, and there is a lot more behind these brick facades than meets the eye.

The basement kitchen of the Merchant's House Museum (1831-32) looks much as it did two centuries ago.

Unlike most coffee table art books, this one marries probing, insightful photography with equally analytical text. Since Murphy is a noted art historian with expertise in American architecture, he seldom misses a chance to educate the reader about the subtleties of Federal and Greek Revival details, or the impact of economic development on New York in the 1830s, when the Village had the hottest real estate market in Manhattan.

He points out that the John Grindley house (1827) owes some of its remarkable elegance to the fact that it was built by John Jacob Astor as a means of converting a former country estate, “Richmond Hill,” into a real estate development that presaged the eventual expansion of housing northward on the island. As each house is presented chronologically, beginning in 1827, Murphy is able to relate the social history of the eras to the features and styles of each example. Modest dwellings such as the David Christie house (1824), built for the middle class, are contrasted with lavish houses for “swells” such as Irad Hawley, president of the Pennsylvania Coal Company, whose Fifth Avenue mansion (1852-53) is home to the Salmagundi Club.

 
The Cherner O'Neill House is an updated east village townhouse from 1801, where a mezzanine overlooks the kitchen.

The lives of original owners are not the only ones examined, for many houses became significant after the Village was a mecca for artists and intellectuals during the 20th century. An 1827 house was renovated in 1893 to become the studio of Robert Blum, an artist associated with Whistler and early Japonisme America. The design, by Carrère & Hastings, reminds us of the bohemian atmosphere that existed in New York around 1900, when modern art was in a period of gestation on both sides of the Atlantic. The building later served as the studio of the noted architectural painter, Jules Guérin.

At the end of the book are two patently modernist interventions into the fabric of this charming corner of New York, and both seem very much at home. One, designed in 2003, is a clever insertion into an 1801 row house. The other, from 2005, is a new house occupying a small slice in the streetscape. One quibble with this necessarily abbreviated story is that little is said about the period of the “Brown Decades,” from the 1860s until 1900, when many sandstone-fronted Italianate and Richardsonian houses were built in Manhattan. Though the Village was by this time a mature neighborhood, there are significant examples from this period, such as the twin houses designed by Robert Mook at 74 and 76 Perry Street in 1866. Perhaps we’ll see a second volume.

One of the best things about The Houses of Greenwich Village is its intimate, insider’s point of view. Both Murphy and Rocheleau bring us as close as possible to the artifacts and lives of the people who made these domestic environments. My favorite is the restoration/conversion by contemporary photographer John Dougdale of the 1828 Cornelius Oakley house. The contrast between the Greek Revival décor and his wonderful collection of artifacts offers a compelling story of rebirth. Before he arrived, the house had been converted to apartments, destroying its character. He lovingly restored every original room. Today he makes old-fashioned photographs in a charming top-lit studio, just as his bohemian brethren did a century ago.

Read all of AN's Friday Reviews here.

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Hell? Yes.
I’ve never loved the New Museum Building, in part because I know what SANAA is capable of achieving.  The Glass Pavilion at the Toledo Museum of Art, which was completed in 2006 (preceding the New Museum by about a year), is a truly original building, technologically inventive and formally stirring.  A one-story structure, it soars--far higher than the New Museum’s teetering tower ever will. And yet I appreciate the New Museum for what it is: an ethereal, sculptural presence, a kind of apparition.  It never looks better than it does at night, glowing, hovering, seemingly unconnected to the city grittiness around it. Its facade is gauzy, gossamer, “less like a wall than a scrim,” as Paul Goldberger wrote in the New Yorker. Which is why the decision to place a heavy, kitschy artwork on the façade  is so infuriating. When the museum opened in 2007, the artwork--a rainbow hued sign that declares Hell, Yes!--was described as a temporary adornment. Now, according to the museum’s communications director, Gabriel Einsohn, it is a “semi permanent” installation; the museum has no plans to remove it. The piece is by Ugo Rondinone, whose, work, according to the New Museum website, “explores notions of emotional and psychic profundity found in the most banal elements of everyday life.”  Perhaps.  The quality of the artwork, which resembles a Hello, Kitty logo, is beyond my ken. I do know something about architecture. And the Rondinone piece directly undermines SANAA’s objective: The architects chose to make the thickness, the weight, even the precise location of the building envelope ambiguous. Hanging a heavy object from that envelope changes everything, for the worse; imagine wearing a campaign button on a wedding veil. Museums are too often willing to demean their architectural treasures.  (How many times has the Whitney proposed working its Marcel Breuer building--to which the New Museum, incidentally, owes a great debt--into some larger composition?) Frank Gehry’s IAC building is in the same boat as the New Museum. After the West Chelsea structure was complete--and after the architectural photographers had shot it as Gehry designed it--the company added two neon signs, on the north and south facades, that say IAC.  As at the New Museum, they take semi-transparent, ambiguous surfaces and render them static and heavy, like turning the lights up when a magician is trying to perform a trick.  But at least you can understand why IAC, which is a commercial enterprise, would want its building to say IAC. There, the signs represent a rational, if regrettable, decision. The New Museum has no excuse.  It should have said, "Hell, No!," instead of 'Hello, kitschy."