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ARIANA LADER”S MOST INTERESTING BUILDINGS IN NYC

A Designer Lists the Most Interesting Buildings in the City

By Ariana Lader

Spring 2014

One of my favorite things about living in New York City is that I could spend a lifetime exploring and still barely scratch the surface of interesting design the city has to offer. New York City hosts a richly textured mélange of structures, styles, and “left-over” spaces that would take a few lifetimes to adequately decipher. After eight years of walking The City, here are few of its most interesting architectural interventions that I have discovered thus far–plus one bonus. Now that the weather seems to be making a long-overdue turn towards something resembling spring, why don’t you celebrate by putting on some sneakers and taking a stroll? If you keep your eyes open, you might even see something you haven’t seen before…

10. 173 Perry Street
Architect: Richard Meier + Partners
173 + 176 Perry Street, Manhattan
Completed 2002

I will begin my list with a somewhat controversial addition to the West Village. 173 Perry Street is the middle of three glass structures designed by the White-Box man himself; Richard Meier (176 Perry and 165 Charles being the other two.)

I can understand some of the blow-back these buildings have created–I mean, how well-suited for the West Village is Meier? Why do I even like these glass behemoths? For starters, they’re not behemoths–each is 16 stories tall and, while this may be taller than most surrounding buildings, the scale feels in-tune. And while contextual material choices are not always Meier’s strong-suit (remember the Ara Pacis debacle in Rome?) the clear glass of 173 Perry Street reads as more of a commentary on the extreme wealth and fame of its residents, not the last word of an authoritarian architect. Not exactly subtle, but for once I actually enjoy a glass box.

9. The Standard Hotel, Highline
Architect: Ennead Architects
848 Washington Street, Manhattan
Completed 2009

While perhaps not the most ingenious piece of architecture, The Standard – Highline must be acknowledged for its urban design appeal for the 21st century. While skyscrapers attend to some of the spatial issues of urban sprawl, it’s rare to find a piece of architecture that deals with the larger urban design issues of the thickening of the urban fabric (pardon the archi-speak).

The Standard employs Corbusian principles of Modernism to create a rather straight-forward design. Where The Standard moves from Modern to Contemporary is in its elevated urban plaza. Instead of a lobby, hotelier Andre Balazs wanted to “create a living room for the neighborhood,” which Ennead Architects truly did. In engaging New York’s favorite elevated surface, The Standard effectively works to expand the Highline and the city’s upward growth.

8. Higgins Hall Center Section
Architect: Stephen Holl
61 St. James Place, Brooklyn
Completed 2005

Despite essentially living in this building for five years, Higgins’ Center Section never really lost its magic for me. This delicate insertion between Higgins Hall’s North and South buildings houses a large portion of the School of Architecture’s studio spaces and was built after the center section burned down yet again. The Center Section’s materiality speaks to both necessity (channel glass + concrete won’t burn for a fourth time) and the poetics of a designer’s studio. Plus, it looks awfully cool with all those figures walking through it at night. While you’re a block away from main campus, I would also advise a trip to the Library, with custom glass floors in the stacks by Louis Comfort Tiffany.

7. The Food Emporium: Bridge Market
Designers: Gustav Lindenthal, Leffert L. Buck, and Henry Hornbostel
401 East 59th Street, Manhattan
Bridge completed 1909

Nestled beneath the Ed Koch Queensboro Bridge is a nifty little place I’m guessing you haven’t been to. After all, who would make it a point to visit a Food Emporium? However, this one is worth it, I promise. The Queensboro Bridge was completed in 1909 as a double cantilevered bridge–the longest cantilevered span in North America until 1917, when the Quebec Bridge surpassed its record. Beneath the bridge’s approach on the Manhattan side are a series of vaults covered in Guastavino terracotta tiles, which is where the Bridge Market is housed.

While tile vaulting might not seem so extraordinary, (and without nerding out too much about tile vaulting,) it’s important to note that this isn’t a construction method native to the United States. This “Cohesive Construction” method of vaulting is much more common in Mediterranean countries and represented a great shift in structural engineering.

Historically an open-air market, the Bridge Market is like many a New York gem–tucked away just out of sight for the casual passer-by and unexpected in both site and programming. It makes one wonder why we can’t find more inventive uses for the city’s many under-utilized spaces.

6. 41 Cooper Square
Architect: Thom Mayne of Morphosis
41 Cooper Square, Manhattan
Completed 2009

It wasn’t love at first sight for me and this building, but I have to say it really grew on me. It made me consider questions of community, site, and style which, in a city as developed as New York, are difficult for a designer to grapple with. My favorite part about this building is its interior circulation and how it sculpts the rest of the building. Much like Higgins Hall South’s main staircase, (only better designed,) the circulation becomes the focal point of public space within the building. It’s a big, bold, stylized statement. No, it’s not perfect, but it’s one of those fascinating spaces that I feel like each time I go there, I could find a new nook + cranny.

5. Canopy over North End Way
Architect: Preston Scott Cohen
North End Way, Manhattan
Completed 2012

Take a walk down through Battery Park City and you should end up at a small street called North End Way that houses a few of my favorite things, namely: Shake Shack, Regal Stadium 11, and a gorgeous canopy designed by Preston Scott Cohen. Commissioned by Goldman Sachs (whose headquarters at 200 West Street abuts the alley,) the canopy connects a series of small shops, recalling the canopied street-markets of Paris or Rome but with a very modern twist. Normally I am not the biggest fan of wild angles in architecture; for the most part they are overused, stylistic gimmicks. Here, however, they function as visual signage, funneling in passersby while providing no hindrance to physical circulation as crazy, useless angles often do.

Walk in. Look up. Look all around! Oh, and while you’re on your way to the movies, make sure you take a small detour to walk up the stairs to the lobby of the Conrad Hotel by KPF to touch the most haptically pleasing handrails known to man.

4. The Whitney Museum of American Art
Architect: Marcel Breuer, Hamilton P. Smith
945 Madison Avenue, Manhattan
Completed 1966

Designed to hold the most avant-garde collection of American art, Breuer’s deign for the Whitney Museum is a work of art in and of itself. Though heavy in feel, the imposing granite façade feels distinct amongst the surrounding brick and brownstone, giving the building “identity and weight,” just as Breuer wanted. Its picture windows are a study in views, which direct inhabitant through the neighborhood. Breuer detailed the exposed grid of pre-cast concrete ceiling blocks to allow for movable wall panels and a more flexible gallery space. (A true modernist, every detail must have a function.) After a walk through his large, open galleries, take a walk downstairs and visit Untitled (the café designed by Rockwell Group) and take a stroll in the shady garden. I’m a sucker for Breuer’s taught combination of clean forms and richly textured materials.

3. The Apthorp
Architect: Clinton & Russell
2201-2219 Broadway
Completed 1908

One of my favorite things about New York is that you could live here all your life and never see half of the amazing architecture the city has to offer. Recently I was lucky enough to be inside the Apthorp; one of New York’s most grand residential buildings – the likes of which are not often seen in America. Commissioned at the turn of the century by William Waldorf Astor, the Apthorp occupies an entire city block, spanning between 78th and 79th Street, from Broadway to West End.

Enter the structure through two massive, coffered archways into a large central courtyard with cobbled streets and two fountains–so old-world! The building’s architects, Clinton & Russell, were highly influenced by Italian Renaissance design and based the Apthorp on the Pitti Palace in Florence; they even imported Florentine sculptures to adorn the courtyard. There is no grand lobby–instead, there are four small lobbies at each corner of the structure. Instead of being overwhelmed by the sheer scale of a solid-block, the courtyard and small-scale lobbies create a more intimate surround. Somehow the Apthorp feels more like a quiet, European microcosm within the hustle and bustle of Manhattan.

Once inside, be amazed by bronze detailed elevators, marble fireplaces, and wood paneling. But the real reason to visit the Apthorp is the daylight afforded each room in each apartment by the central courtyard–you will think you have ascended into the clouds. And mind the celebrities.

2. Metropolitan Opera House (Lincoln Center)
Architect: Wallace Harrison
30 Lincoln Center Plaza
Completed 1966

This one’s a classic. I love absolutely everything about Lincoln Center–from the landscape architecture (by my old teacher Signe Nielson,) to the new Diller Scofidio + Renfro Alice Tully Hall to the twinkling glassphalt sidewalks and general splendor of the Center + its inhabitants. The Met Opera House stands out as a particular place of wonder. One of the greatest things about the architecture here is that it’s not just about the architecture! The three-story tall Chagall paintings! Le grand escallier! The Sputnik chandeliers! This architecture is best enjoyed with a tie-pin and champagne.

1. Austrian Cultural Forum of New York
Architect: Raimund Abraham
11 E 52nd Street
Completed 2002

The Austrian Cultural Forum is one of those rare gems you come across with help from design insiders. I came here on a field trip with my History of Interior design professor Katarina Posch, who happens to be Austrian as well as a design historian. This sensitive blend of contemporary design aesthetic, Viennese Secessionist modernism, and even a touch of the exotic (some say the façade is reminiscent of the monumental totems of Easter Island,) houses exhibition spaces, a theater, library, and archives. While the building occupies a small footprint–or perhaps because it does–the interest lies in the sectional relationships between interior volumes. I would also recommend a trip to the top floor, if you can arrange it, which has a terrace that affords some truly spectacular views of Manhattan.

And one for the future: One Madison Avenue
Architect: Daniel Libeskind
Proposed Site: 1 Madison Avenue
Unbuilt

Ok, so I know you can’t actually go on a walk here yet, but good LORD this building is so revolutionary I am actually obligated to share this with everyone I know. Daniel Libeskind isn’t my favorite architect. With the exception of the Berlin Holocaust Museum, I tend to find his work rather heavy-handed.
Skyscraper design is difficult for some designers (read: me) because it usually ends up being an exercise in façade design and/or a volume study–the interior falling subject to the designs of individual tenants. This structure is so extraordinary because it not only acknowledges this but also turns this notion upside-down by literally dematerializing the exterior skin, highlighting the “guts” of the building that appear to spill forth. The bottom line of One Madison Ave is that besides the fact that it’s sustainable and healthy, that it plays with structure and our notion of what a high rise is and can be, or that formally I think it’s one of the most honest and beautiful buildings, One Madison Ave looks toward the future of New York’s skyline. It engages me to imagine the future of design and the future of the city I love.

Ariana Lader is an architectural and interior designer based in NYC.

Written and Compiled by Ariana Lader

Photography by & Courtesy of Tyler Malone

Design by Mina Darius

Captions:

New York City from Brooklyn, Photography by & Courtesy of Tyler Malone

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