Back when we first got a glimpse of Dutch architect Bjarke Ingel’s new apartment project for Durst Fetner, it immediately became the most exciting new project in at least a generation. Though seen only in comic-book form and as a fleeting still from a flythrough video (see below), the building at 57th Street and the Hudson River became an immediate sensation.
Not only is this an entirely new building typology—a smallscale-meets-high-rise residential building the likes, and shape, of which the city has never seen—but the fact that it is being pursued after the bursting (at least temporarily) of the city’s real estate bubble demonstrates that architecture is not, in fact, dead, as many had feared. Developers, at least the smart ones, realize that investing in quality repays itself. Who knows, maybe this will be the new normal, and what a place to start!
Yesterday, Durst Fetner Residential announced that it is officially moving forward with the 600-unit rental project to be designed by Ingel’s eponymous group (BIG), following a profile of the architect in the latest issue of New York magazine. The project will go before the local community board Wednesday night, and Douglas Durst told The Observer in an interview that he expects the project to begin the official public review process a year from now. That means we could see construction as early as 2012.
When asked why he would dare undetake such a dynamic project in this market, cousin and co-conspirator Jody Durst reponded, “A strong back and a weak mind.”
“We had nothing better to do at the time,” Douglas Durst followed. Then he gave the real explanation. “Basically the answer is, we know, to get the approvals, we had to do something spectacular,” the elder Durst said. So this was the will of exacting Planning Commissioner Amanda Burden? “Certainly not!” (Later in the interview, Douglas Durst would allow: “We’ve been told by the Planning Commission that this is really a gateway to Manhattan and it really has to be stunning.”)
And stunning it is. The building is a mash-up of European and New York styles, combining a short, blocky apartments-around-a-courtyard model with a high-rise tower. The result is a sloping structure that maximizes harbor views not only for those inside the building but also the neighbors whose sightlines might also be obstructed. New York‘s Justin Davidson enthuses thusly:
In a gridded city, reason would seem to dictate an architecture of seamless planes and perpendicular lines, but Ingels has found a more efficient eccentricity. Balconies slash the inclined plane. The apartments slant away from the corridor like fishbones so that windows on 58th Street frame westward views. Ingels is a virtuoso of repetitive protrusions: Instead of facing the building with a slick screen of glass, he breaks it into a Cubist expanse of windowed bays
It is one of the grand victories of West Side redevelopment, from the Village to Chelsea to West Harlem, that not only new housing is being built, but it is being built inside bold architecture. In fact, this is yet another paradigm shift, as so many of those magnificent buildings, like Nouvel’s 100 11th and Gehry’s Beekman Tower in the Financial District are really just the same old apartment buildings sheathed in facade finery. This building is an entirely new shape, a new way of living and building. Whether we see another like it remains to be seen, but the very existance of this property, and Christian de Portzamparc’s Riverside South for Extell just to the north, is a sign of a promising future.
“We see long-term value in doing a project like this,” Jody Durst said. It is the same reason his firm embraced sustainable design all those years ago, with the Helena rental building across the street and the Conde Nast and Bank of America towers in midtown. It’s a value proposition for one of the city’s oldest and smartest real estate families. “It’s the only building of its kind,” Douglas Durst said.
Yet Davidson of New York suggested the Dursts had low-balled on architects in the past, saying Douglas Durst “has generally opted for experienced, deliberate firms like FXFowle and its spinoff, Cook + Fox. A revolutionary he is not.” Well… “I take exception to that,” the developer told The Observer. “We’ve been on the progressive side for a long time.”
Still, the Dursts know they are doing something special on this site. After all, they told us they would be pursuing the same high-level of sustainable design at another development site Durst Fetner controls on Sixth Avenue between 30th and 31st streets. “I think it will be an environmentally responsible site with more conventional architecture,” Jody Durst said. That is if the Bank of America Building can be called conventional.
With that, he acknowledged no design was yet prepared, though a firm had been selected. Which one, neither Douglas nor Jody would not say. Yet perhaps after the success of Bjarke Ingels’ project becomes apparent, Durst Fetner might change its mind and consider something more ambitious once again.