Gene Kaufman’s Latest Hotel: Surprisingly Inoffensive!

Gene Kaufman's latest hotel: surprisingly not awful!

Gene Kaufman’s latest hotel: surprisingly not awful!

Gene Kaufman is not a beloved New York City architect. Though his buildings, and especially his hotels, are becoming ubiquitous across Midtown Manhattan, the very mention of his name is enough to inspire rage across the blogosphere. (Curbed’s commenters, in particular, are not too fond of Mr. Kaufman, calling him, among other things, a “prick,” “hack,” “negligent human being,” “pathetic excuse for an architect” and, of course, “terrorist.”)

So it is with great relief that, as The Observer strolled past his latest construction site on 54th Street, between Broadway and Eighth Avenue, we noticed something unusual: 237 West 54th Street ain’t half bad!

The building’s skin has not reached the top, but it has risen high enough that we know what it will look like when it’s finished. And for New Yorkers accustomed to his narrow, high-rise hotels with façades punctured by PTAC units and bargain-basement postmodern or historicist designs, Mr. Kaufman’s staid gray brick and distinctly air conditioning grille-free Hilton Hotel comes as a welcome surprise.

“By Kaufman standards,” wrote one forum-goer at Skyscraper Page, “this is shaping up to be a masterpiece. Maybe one of the interns designed it.” Another noted that the design is “kind of snoozeville, but I like that it breaks up the glass monotony that the two towers on either side have created”—the two neighboring towers being Boston Properties’ office tower at 250 West 55th Street, and Granite Broadway’s 1717 Broadway, which will house two Marriott hotels.

Kaufman's not-awful hotel still exposes the naked lot line wall of its newly-built neighbor.

Kaufman’s not-awful hotel still exposes the naked lot line wall of 1717 Broadway, its newly built neighbor.

The building isn’t perfect, though, as it still sits back a few yards on the lot, leaving an awkward gap between the building’s face and the sidewalk, and exposing the unadorned lot line walls of the neighboring structures. This front set-back, as The Observer previously reported, is due to a combination of zoning rules that prevent buildings from rising straight up from the sidewalk, and the financial pressure to maintain uniform floor plate depths in order to keep design costs low for the bargain chain hotel builders (Joseph Moinian and Starwood Capital are developing the project).

Still, for an architect as maligned as Gene Kaufman, a building as inoffensive as 237 West 54th Street is a huge step in the right direction. Given the hotel boom Manhattan is going through, we’ll likely be seeing a lot more of Mr. Kaufman’s designs, so hopefully this newfound grace is not a fluke. Maybe he could even share his newfound design secrets with fellow cheap New York City hotel builders Peter Poon and Sam Chang?