Ministry of Funny Buildings: Slick Madison Square Tower Resurrected


There have been all kinds of indications the city is slowly creeping back from the brink of a building stand-still. There may be no major office buildings coming online this year, but with a paucity of apartments, residential construction already seems to be bouncing back. Another indication of recovery? The return of flashy, funny-looking buildings.

Anbau Enterprises has just purchased a vacant lot at 39-41 West 23rd Street for $18.5 million, according to The Journal, and the developer will go forward with the prior plans for a 22-story angular tower just off Madison Square Park. The project—dubbed the Pope Hat building by Curbed—was originally to be a hotel, designed by Carlos Zapata, who created a similar-looking structure with the Cooper Square Hotel, but now the same structure will be tweaked to become a luxury condo with 38 units. The design is not universally beloved:

Like Frank Gehry’s 8 Spruce Street, Mr. Zapata’s glass curves stand out from the historic neighborhood. But John Massengale, an architecture scholar and blogger, prefers another comparison. “You could maybe compare it to the IAC building [in Chelsea], which is one of my least favorite Gehry buildings,” said Mr. Massengale.


“The bulk of the proposed new building significantly destroys the continuity of the elegant decorative historic street wall and despoils the special aesthetic character of the Ladies’ Mile Historic District streetscape,” said a resolution at the time from the community board.

Despite these detractors, it is still a promising project, as it is not just another cookie-cutter box. Great projects have been abandoned during the downturn, such as Ben Van Berkel’s Five Franklin. Meanwhile, developers like Durst Fetner, and now Anbau, are showing that the starchitecture that dominated the city during the building boom is not dead. We may be building big again before you know it.

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