Triangular Logic *
On a sliver lot at Astor Place, Charles Gwathmey's first residential development aspires to Flatiron Building status
Fred A. Bernstein -- Interior Design, 9/1/2004 12:00:00 AM
The triangular blocks that result from Broadway's journey through the Manhattan street grid have inspired some architects. (Think the Flatiron Building.) And confounded others. (The Trump International Hotel & Tower on Columbus Circle.) But one Greenwich Village triangle—this particular one formed by Astor Place, Lafayette Street, and Cooper Square—had long remained a parking lot. Even an Ian Schrager hotel failed to get off the ground, and that project involved no less than Rem Koolhaas's Office for Metropolitan Architecture, Herzog & de Meuron, and Gehry Partners.
Now Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects has designed Astor Place, a curved tower atop an angular two-story base. Developed by the Related Companies, the 21-story building will contain 39 residential lofts with floor plans by Gwathmey Siegel and Ismael Leyva Architects.
The building's sales office on Lafayette Street doesn't offer a complete model apartment, but potential purchasers can inspect full-size kitchens and baths, a floor-to-ceiling mock-up of the building's glass curtain wall, and examples of interior finishes. There's even full-height drapery of stainless-steel mesh against upholstery fabric, displayed for the benefit of buyers who might want to separate their kitchen from their living area. (Gwathmey will demonstrate for anyone who asks.)
The real kitchens and baths, he says, will be comparable in quality to the ones his firm has designed for Steven Spielberg and Jerry Seinfeld as well as the 16 other clients whose lushly modern residences appear in Gwathmey Siegel: Apartments, out in October from Rizzoli International Publications.
What do you think makes this building special?
With its faceted, reflective glass facade, it will have an elusive quality. Yet it's a place marker, a monument. When I design a house, it's a sculptural object. Astor Place is no different. To get to do an "object building" in the city is a unique opportunity.
Can local builders deliver the precision you demand?
If you give them something they can take pride in, they become loyal to the project and its author. But it's not easy—it still takes fanatical supervision.
These apartments are being marketed as yours, but aren't they just empty spaces?
They're lofts with our great kitchens and bathrooms. For the baths, we even designed new plumbing fittings and chose a wallpaper that looks like metal. (I'm not a wallpaper person.) You'll be moving into a space that has the same integrity about how it's made—about how the details are resolved—as the apartments in the Rizzoli book.
So many "luxury" buildings are ruined by careless details, for instance protruding air conditioners. Not this one.
With our curtain wall, you won't even see any grilles. There are grilles, of course, but they're integrated into ceiling drops and cabinetry. They're very discreet.
Will people be allowed to hang their own curtains against those windows?
Mies van der Rohe set a precedent with the Seagram Building, where all of the windows have to look the same. We want to have a standard shade, and I know it will be mesh, but we still need to decide on the level of opacity and the color: a white or a light gray. We're waiting until the curtain wall is up, so we can tell how the shade might work against the glass. Of course, if you choose to have something else behind, that's up to you.
Will you cover up the structural columns?
The contractor did such a beautiful job—I tried to convince Related to leave them exactly as they are. Unpainted concrete.
How does your building compare to Richard Meier's towers in the West Village?
His buildings have definitely made the community aware of architecture and the idea that you can build a glass residential building and get the benefits of transparency, of views, of open spaces. It's very different from looking through punched window frames. But Astor Place is more contextual. It maintains a view corridor—not just for the residents, who will never feel like they're facing a wall, but also for the city.
How would you like to see the apartments decorated?
In metal and wood, a collage of subtly varied materials. That allows light, views, and the space's form to be primary. The same as in our houses.
Any interior designers you'd like to recommend?
Hopefully all 39 buyers will get on the phone and call Gwathmey Siegel.
What would you do to the apartments?
If a person has a lot of books, you have to figure out how to create a library without closing off the space. If a person collects art, you have to find a way to show it. Those are the types of questions that interest me. Each buyer's program will animate the building.
Gwathmey Siegel & Associates Architects partner Charles Gwathmey.
A context model of his Astor Place high-rise, exploring curved and rectilinear forms as it pulls away from an adjacent building to create a view corridor.
The 21-story tower, a year from completion.
A scale model of a floor plan for one of the 39 lofts.
The nearby sales office's miniature mock-up of the curtain wall, minus the reflective glass.
A model bathroom with a 700-pound granite sink vanity and Gwathmey's new fittings, manufactured by Watermark Designs.
A model kitchen, beneath the sales office's lighting grid.