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Thread: Brick and Glass in New York Apartment Buildings

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    Default Brick and Glass in New York Apartment Buildings

    Brick and Glass in New York Apartment Buildings

    The history of some changing uses of traditional materials.

    By Alex Marshall

    Posted Tuesday, March 16, 2004, at 8:25 AM PT

    Slide Show

    This pair of new apartment buildings designed by Richard Meier is the rarest of things in Manhattan: distinctive, original residential architecture. One of the last of the Modernists, Meier here has dropped his usual preference for solid-white buildings and instead designed see-through ones. Meier has taken Modernist patriarch Philip Johnson's "Glass House" and stretched it into apartment buildings. The Perry Street towers doubtless have their flaws. Their chic residents such as Nicole Kidman and Calvin Klein are completely exposed in their full-story apartments until they add some curtains. But the building's emphasis on views fits its location overlooking the Hudson River. The apartments sell as unfinished concrete shells for several million dollars; Klein paid a reported $14 million for the three-story penthouse.

    In the hip Meatpacking District just north of the Meier building, architect Gregg Pasquarelli of SHOP architects has placed a six-story, gunmetal-gray box at an off-angle on top of a renovated older brick building. The juxtaposition of styles is jarring and original. The most daring touch is the placing of flat, rectangular electric lights at irregular intervals on the exterior of the building and in the hallways. These make the Porter House one of the most visually distinctive buildings in the city.

    Unlike the Porter House and Perry Street buildings, most new apartment buildings in Manhattan are flat brick boxes, virtually undistinguishable from one another. They have gone up all over Manhattan. As is the case with suburban McMansions, these buildings' developers eschew distinctive architecture and prefer to put their attention and money into interior "hot button" finishes like "Brazilian granite countertops and stainless steel appliances," as one ad for a particularly dull building described its kitchens.

    Current construction techniques also influence form, as they always have. At architecture's highest end, advanced software has enabled architects like Frank Gehry to build swirling, rotating buildings that seem to spring straight from their imagination to the ground. But most developers of "average" luxury apartments use poured concrete or "slab" construction. Workers create floors and supporting pillars by pouring concrete into wooden molds filled with iron strands of rebar. Once that process is finished, so is the building, just about. Slap a carpet down on the horizontal concrete slab and you have a finished floor. Brush some white paint on the underside and you have a ceiling.

    Unlike in older, steel-frame construction methods, workers do not have to add floors and ceilings as a separate step. In the older method, it did not cost a lot more money to add a bay window or other details. In addition, thick steel girders left a foot or more of space between floors that could be used for soffits, interior arches, domed ceilings, and other decorative touches. But construction techniques do not invariably dictate how buildings will look. The Perry Street apartments are made of poured concrete, but Meier chose to shape the buildings into off-angled, four-sided towers, and to face them with glass rather than with more conventional solutions like red brick over cinder blocks.

    Despite their plainness, the brick-and-glass blocks have become icons of style. In the hit show Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the camera usually pans on a classic brick-and-glass structure—the Tate apartment building on 23rd and 10th Avenue (shown here)—just before the show's five fashion experts gather in a living room to watch how their makeover victim fares. The implication seems to be that this building is something to be envied. What's amazing is that would-be fashionistas are paying $4,000 a month to rent tiny one-bedroom apartments whose exterior is so unremarkable and whose nondescript interiors look stolen from the nearest budget motel.

    Timid developers, standard construction methods, and undiscriminating buyers push even famous architects to design what are essentially modified brick-and-glass boxes. Robert Stern, dean of the Yale architecture school and the country's reigning classicist, designed "the Westminster" shown here at 7th Avenue and 21st, Street. From a distance, it resembles a stack of children's blocks, which is a nice effect, and its large windows make the small apartments feel bigger. But the appliqué of Art Deco doodads on the exterior doesn't change its conventional brick exterior and standard rectangular form.

    Michael Graves, now almost as famous for designing teakettles and toasters as buildings, has produced the 54-story "425 5th Avenue" apartment tower at 38th street in Midtown. A yellow stick in the sky, it recalls the lean brick Art Deco office towers from the 1920s nearby, like the original General Electric building on Lexington Avenue and 50th Street. But given the possibilities open to architects today, cladding the building in standard brick and using almost nothing but right angles is pretty conventional. The apartments, which cost from $500,000 for a tiny studio up to $10 million for the penthouse, have relatively low ceilings and boxy dimensions.

    The luxury apartment house was actually invented in New York in the late 19th century, when it used to embody a tradition of bold design. Pictured here is the Ansonia, an "apartment-hotel" at Broadway and 73rd, built in 1904. It originally had 2,500 rooms, a ballroom, a dining hall that seated 550 people, and an indoor swimming pool, at the time the world's largest. To live here was to take part in a radical transformation of the city. Elizabeth Hawes in her book New York, New York: How the Apartment House Transformed the Life of the City (1869-1930), describes how in 1870, 90 percent of upper-class New Yorkers lived in townhouses and other styles of single-family homes. By 1930, 90 percent lived in apartments. To lure potential tenants, developers borrowed the word "apartment" from the French to make the new buildings sound more fashionable. The word and the lifestyle stuck.

    The Dakota, pictured here, was another of the early grand apartment houses, built amid the then empty fields of the Upper West Side in 1890. Each apartment had 15-foot ceilings, mahogany paneling, and chandeliers. One apartment had 17 carved-marble fireplaces. This Beaux Art style architecture, which emerged from the French academy and was popular in the late 19th century, is hardly subtle, but it had a sense of theater and fun that's missing from most new buildings. Apartment-house living spread from New York to the rest of the country. The Virginian-Pilot in Norfolk in 1911 reported that "The age of the apartment house life has come here to stay," and that "any stigma that might be attached to a tenement dweller, any social descendency that be held against the flatite, has no reflection upon the apartment house family."

    But times changed. There was a nice Art Deco interlude between the wars, as exhibited in the London Terrace Gardens, constructed in 1929 on West 23rd Street and 9th Avenue. But after World War II the New York apartment building started shedding its complexities until it was reduced to its bare essentials: flat panels of brick and glass, lacking shape, color, texture, and ornament.

    But things may be changing. Meier's Perry Street and Pasqarelli's Porter House buildings have sold out at prices per square foot considerably higher than average. This may prompt more developers to realize that adding creative, original architecture can mean more money in their pockets, and this may eventually improve the skyline and streets of this city and others.

    Alex Marshall, an independent journalist in New York, is the author of How Cities Work: Suburbs, Sprawl and the Roads Not Taken.

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  2. #2


    I really like The Porter House.

  3. #3
    Forum Veteran krulltime's Avatar
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    I don't think that Nicole Kidman minds those curtains... ops:

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    Ya, it's funny sometimes to read on building websites their self description. The one that most comes to mind is the Electra, which describes itself as 'architecturally distinctive' or something. It's the single worst new apartment building in the city in the last 10-15 years; it's a box with a poorly-painted white exterior, and beams in the apartment ceilings that the developer sells as interesting and unique features, while their appearance is simply because the developer was too cheap to even cover them.

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    It's also funny that people are still going to pay a fortune to live there. "Undiscriminate buyers" are the reason developers can get away with this junk. If only Americans were more architecturally educated...

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    And more conscious to the fact that they're being ripped off...

  7. #7


    Hey Eli, I was walking around Brooklyn today I mostly found a lot of 3 story construction sites but here were some of the bigger ones.

    104 Clifton Place
    4 stories

    Buillding on Monroe St. near Classon
    4 stories
    Recently Completed

    895 Pacific Street
    4 stories

    35 Underhill Avenue
    7 stories

    762 Dean Street
    4 stories
    Finishing Constructio

    798 Dean Street
    4 stories

    800 Hicks Street
    8 stories
    Recently Completed

    880 Bergen Street
    15 stories
    Starting Construction

    481 Prospect Place
    4 stories

    St. Teresa of Avila Senior Housing
    9 stories
    Finishing Construction

    100 Sterling Place
    5 stories
    Recently Completed

    133 Sterling Place
    5 stories

    145 Park Place
    8 stories

    383 Carlton Avenue
    11 stories

    Found this on Meltzer/Mandl's web site a while ago too.

  8. #8
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    Thanks... that's extensive!

    I might have a picture of one of the Dean St. buildings, it's a few blocks from Atlantic Terminal, not sure if that's either of them.

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    Where is the Greene Ave. building... the one with the rendering?

  10. #10


    383 Carlton is the same as the Greene Avenue tower by Meltzer Mandl.

    There Goes the Neighborhood: Luxury Condo Threatens to Destroy Fort Greene’s Historic Charm
    by Corrie Pikul
    January 2004

    383 Carlton Avenue, December, 2003. Photo by Peter Krebs.

    For years, rodents scavenging in the windblown garbage were the only tenants worried about irresponsible development at 383 Carlton Avenue. The vacant lot’s unruly undergrowth, rickety gate and occasional parked car were a forlorn contrast to the renovated brownstones of Fort Greene’s Historic District. Approaching the neighborhood from the corner of Carlton and Greene avenues was like happening upon an elegant society matron who, in stooping to retrieve a dropped handkerchief, unwittingly exposes a torn slip.

    Yet when the lot was suddenly boarded up for construction last spring, residents immediately rallied to protect it. They had discovered that the lot’s future tenant would be an 11-story, 27-unit luxury condominium. Preliminary renderings depicted commercial office space supporting an ultra-modern tower of brick, glass, aluminum clad and concrete that would stand at least seven stories taller than the well-kept brownstones that give the neighborhood its distinct character.

    Paul Palazzo, the de facto leader of the Carlton Avenue Steering Committee that has organized specifically against the condo, has lived in Fort Greene for twenty years. "The developers are taking advantage of a historic neighborhood, and giving nothing back in return," he says angrily.

    The proposed condominium literally brings the development debate home and dumps it on the front stoop of the community. Fort Greene residents who have felt powerless to stop projects like the Atlantic Terminal shopping complex and the nascent BAM cultural (and commercial) district have found a target for their frustrations— two targets, in fact. They go by the names of Jonathan Jacobs and David Weiss of Carlton Adelphi LDC, and they can be found personally supervising the construction on weekdays from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

    Fort Greene residents view Jacobs and Weiss as opportunistic villains whose profit-making venture will permanently damage their neighborhood. Jacobs and Weiss counter that it was only a matter of time before a developer recognized the potential of the unused lot. While they predicted that the condo might upset some neighbors, they seem genuinely taken aback by the intensity of the community backlash. That backlash is not surprising, though, given that the aesthetic future of Fort Greene is at stake.

    The condo units are not yet for sale, so the profile of prospective buyers is open to conjecture. Current residents, as well as local merchants along Fulton Street, worry that the building might attract upscale commuters who will sleep in Fort Greene but work, socialize and spend their money in the city. To some critics of the condo, the apocalyptic arrival of these "Upper East Siders" threatens to be the first step in the "Manhattanization" of Fort Greene. "The condo will dwarf our brownstones! It will block the sun!" wailed one woman at a block meeting. "I feel like I’m back in Chelsea," said another.

    Residents expressed disbelief that a building of this size would be permitted within the Fort Greene historic district. But that main point of confusion for the citizens, is the saving grace of the developers: 383 Carlton Avenue is contiguous with the historic district, but does not technically fall within its protective boundaries.

    383 Carlton Avenue is designated an R6 Zone. Despite the fact that all of the other buildings on the street are three- and four-story brownstones, the new condo is under no legal obligation to match them in size. Jacobs calls the eleven stories "a compromise"— this building could have been even taller. One letter would make all the difference: an R6B Zone requires new buildings to be "contextual" with their surroundings. Bulk and height must be compatible with neighboring community. In addition, an R6B Zone limits overall building height to fifty feet (approximately five floors).

    When the developers broke ground in January, the FGA implored them to follow zoning guidelines and to be mindful of the historic nature of the area. Even though the FGA was aware that 383 Carlton fell just outside the historic district, the organization asked the developers to keep the condo under nine stories tall.

    In explaining the limits of community power, FGA president Howard Pitsch wearily concedes that while protestors may give the developers pause for thought, only the government can halt construction.

    For over two years, the FGA has been trying to obtain R6B zoning for Fort Greene. The slow, laborious process involves surveying the entire neighborhood and manually noting the details of every unit. As of late November, Pitsch was still having difficulty convincing the Land Use/ Landmarks Committee to put Fort Greene rezoning on its next agenda. In the meantime, developers like Carlton Adelphi LDC are free to purchase and build upon unprotected lots in accordance with R6 guidelines.

    Pitsch says that Letitia James, the newly elected City Council member for District 35, is sympathetic to the demands of the community. FGA hopes are pinned like wings to Ms. James. Pitsch thinks she could be Fort Greene’s "archangel" in regards to rezoning.

    Although most of the historic district currently adheres to a certain aesthetic, there is no style imposed upon 383 Carlton Avenue. Under "as of right" development, plans are filed with the Department of Buildings and construction can begin immediately upon issuance of a building permit. The plans are not required to go through a public approval process.

    Meltzer/Mandl Architects, P.C. of Manhattan is the firm handling 383 Carlton. They are also known for a similar project: The North Moore building in TriBeCa’s West Historic District is a conversion of four adjacent landmark industrial buildings into 49 luxury loft condominium units and street-level retail space.

    The architect of the condo, Marvin H. Meltzer, is a licensed member of the American Institute of Architects. The AIA encourages "responsible development" and advocates the preservation of designated historic sites. However, the organization makes no judgment on aesthetics. As a spokesperson for the AIA explains, "There is no equivalent to the Hippocratic oath for architects."

    Pitsch says he is open to the idea of updating the landmarked areas by adding contemporary buildings. "But must they conflict so egregiously with the historic district?" he asks, referring to 383 Carlton.

    While Meltzer takes understandable offense to the description of his designs as "egregious," he does not deny that this building will not fit in next to its19th century neighbors. In fact, that’s a tenet of his design philosophy.

    "I feel that trying to make something today that looks like it was built in the 1800’s doesn’t do justice to the architecture of that period," he says. Meltzer strongly believes that a clear visual distinction between old and new buildings serves to make the historic architecture more powerful.

    Continued construction has not daunted the Carlton Avenue Steering Committee. They hold semi-weekly meetings to discuss the state of the condo and brainstorm ways to thwart its progress. In early September, this group staged a letter writing campaign to the Department of Buildings. Members have utilized their unique talents to research building codes and zoning laws, set up a website, and drafted alternative plans to present to the developers. Guerilla strategies have included placing numerous calls to New York City’s 311 hotline, filing formal complaints against the developers to the DOB, and organizing multiple protests in front of the site.

    Jonathan Jacobs usually makes a brief appearance at the protests. In person, he seems too young and amiable to be a money-hungry real estate developer yet too buttoned-up to be a resident of Fort Greene. At this point in the debate, he has gotten to know individual protestors well enough to address them by their first names.

    Exasperated, Jacobs explained how he and Weiss have tried to work with the community. "From the beginning, we said that there were certain things we wouldn’t change: the height, the basic layout of the building, the shape. But we were always open to suggestions concerning the ‘flavor’ of the building, the colors and materials. At the community’s request, we altered the tower and the façade to help the building fit in more contextually with the neighborhood."

    Jacobs feels that there is definitely a right way and a wrong way for citizens to communicate with developers. "The right way is to act civilly and realize that there are certain parameters to discussion. The wrong way to is to call 311 every time a leaf falls off a tree! The wrong way is to put up protest signs on our fences!"

    Jacobs tries to remain pragmatic about the situation. "We wouldn’t have Manhattan if people were afraid of skyscrapers," he says. "In the end, we’ll all look at this and laugh," he adds optimistically.

    Marvin Meltzer, the architect, isn’t laughing yet. "I’m trying to be really patient with the community, but frankly, I’m finding this a little strange. It’s gotten to the point where it could be considered intimidation. In my career as an architect, I’ve never faced this kind of opposition before."

    To Meltzer, the bottom line of the entire debate is that "This building is not in a historic district! That is an extremely important point that everyone seems to be forgetting. There are no official restrictions on this lot."

    Speaking in full support of Jacobs and Weiss, Meltzer applauds what he sees as their continued efforts to meet with the community. "Look, the developers’ job is to buy property for profit. Fort Greene is lucky that they’re dealing with people like Jonathan and David. They’ve been very accommodating, whereas most developers wouldn’t bother."

    In mid-November, a letter from the New York City Department of Buildings reminded Fort Greene that 383 Carlton Avenue is located in an R6 Zone, and the condo is therefore "as of right." Howard Pitsch of the FGA says that he is "deeply disappointed that the condo has come to pass." Palazzo is less understanding. He contends that the explanation is not satisfactory to the community, and is demanding more of an explanation from the DOB.

    Both community leaders are actively recruiting Fort Greene and Clinton Hill residents to assist the Department of City Planning in surveying individual buildings. They are aggressive in their aim to expedite the R6B rezoning process. "The condo has pushed the rezoning issue to the forefront," says Pitsch. Both men vow that the community isn’t going to let it die now.

    Corrie Pikul is a writer based in Brooklyn.

    To relate this back to the thread, it is kind of understandable why most of these people hate new developments in Ft. Greene. After walking around today, it is obvious that all the developments built in the past 50 years are less attractive and have actually taken away from the area (i.e. the projects, St. James Towers, and all that monotonous crap on Atlantic Avenue across from the railyards). Now it seems the community is in that mindset of everything new=bad. It's ashame though that when good projects do come along, they are rejected because they are different in scale and style such as this one and the Atlantic Yards project.

    BTW, I haven't seen a firm design better luxury and affordable residential buildings in New York than Meltzer/Mandl Architects. They can replace SLCE & Costas Kondylis anyday.

    "I feel that trying to make something today that looks like it was built in the 1800’s doesn’t do justice to the architecture of that period," he says. Meltzer strongly believes that a clear visual distinction between old and new buildings serves to make the historic architecture more powerful.

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  12. #12


    January 13, 2005


    The Life Transparent


    GLASSINISTAS Well-heeled buyers are flocking to glass-sheathed apartment buildings like 505 Greenwich Street.

    SEE THROUGH Developers are racing to meet rising demand for fashionable glass-clad buildings, like 497 Greenwich Street.

    Richard Meier in one of his Perry Street towers, which helped start the trend.

    LESS than three years ago, when Nicole Kidman and Calvin Klein bought apartments in the all-glass Richard Meier towers on Perry Street, the transparent jewel box buildings were still a kind of novelty in New York.

    But it wasn't long before see-through exterior walls became the latest must-have amenity for home buyers prepared to spend seven figures or more on an apartment. Now that seemingly every luxury condo has a Sub-Zero, granite countertops and an oversize bathroom tub, style-conscious buyers are flocking to apartments with glass facades, undeterred by high prices, the prospect of baring all to the neighbors and headaches with window treatments.

    Sleek, seamless glass facades are showing up everywhere, from residential skyscrapers in Midtown to a six-story town house in TriBeCa.

    For Mark Alvino, 37, a managing director of a merchant bank, the glass wall was "the No. 1 reason" he bought a two-bedroom condo at 505 Greenwich Street for about $1.3 million. Mr. Alvino also looked at the Meier towers on Perry Street and at Astor Place, a new 39-unit building covered in undulating glass designed by Charles Gwathmey.

    "Glass curtain walls in the past few years have just been a phenomenon," said Shlomi Reuveni, a Corcoran Group broker who is helping to sell glass-fronted condos in Chelsea and the West Village. To some extent the trend is driven by architectural fashion. In an interview Mr. Meier said architects were eager to work with glass because it is a 21st-century material. Mr. Gwathmey said glass has qualities that make it "elusive and varying" and well suited for more sculptural work.

    Developers, needless to say, also sometimes wax effusive on the subject of that hot commodity, glass. "One phrase keeps coming back to me: `Let there be light' from the Old Testament," said Dan Cobleigh, a vice president at HoriZen Global. "Like the plants that die in the darkness, the human spirit tends to die as well, and the human spirit thrives in sunlight."

    Another developer put the iPod spin on it. Now that products like Apple Computer's digital music player have popularized sleek industrial design, wealthy buyers want that same feeling at home. Glass walls evoke an image of a "clean, elegant, well-organized lifestyle and people want to be part of that," said Greg Bonsignore, the managing director of the Hudson Development Group, which is building a glass town house on Reade Street in TriBeCa.

    Whatever the justification, developers are rushing to meet the demand. Due to the popularity of the transparent facade on the lower floors at Soma, a 10-unit condominium on West 22nd Street, Mr. Reuveni said HoriZen Global, the developer, decided to change the design for the front and rear facades of the $2.7 million penthouse from brick and sheetrock to glass.

    The Greenwich Street Project, next door to 505 Greenwich Street on a quiet stretch of old industrial brick buildings, is fronted by curving glass. In TriBeCa a wall of glass will sheath five luxury apartments at 116 Hudson Street. Six blocks away, the town house on Reade Street, which goes on the market for $8 million later this week, has six floors of all-glass walls, front and back.

    On a much larger scale, a glass wall will enclose the 250 apartments at a new condominium on Chambers Street. It was designed by Costas Kondylis, the architect responsible for Trump World Tower, a 72-story glass skyscraper. In Midtown a 551-unit condominium going up at 350 West 42nd Street will be cloaked in a sheer expanse of glass.

    And Richard Meier himself has designed another all-glass tower at 165 Charles Street, just steps away from his original towers, where the wide-open rooms perched on the edge of the West Side Highway offered unparalleled views from the outside in.

    Of course glass walls are not a new idea. Mies van der Rohe's glass towers on Lake Shore Drive in Chicago, completed in 1951, are considered the progenitors of the genre. In New York, office buildings have been covered in glass skins for decades.

    But although there have been exceptions, the predominant form of residential architecture in Manhattan has been either cement or brick frames with conventional windows. Even today some of the most coveted luxury apartments are in prewar co-ops with relatively small windows.

    Developers have been encouraged to splurge on glass as luxury buyers have spent more for their homes. The average price of luxury real estate has increased nearly 45 percent over the past five years, according to Miller Samuel, a New York appraisal firm, from $941 a square foot in the final quarter of 1999 to $1,364 a square foot in the last three months of 2004. Prices at Astor Place are running from $1,380 to $2,600 a square foot.

    David Wine, vice chairman of the Related Companies, which is developing Astor Place, said a glass facade was at least 25 percent more expensive than traditional masonry. Nancy Ruddy, a principal at Cetra/Ruddy, the architectural firm that is designing 350 West 42nd Street, said the average price of an exterior glass wall started at around $70 a square foot, compared to $50 or $60 for a masonry and punched-window wall.

    Glass-clad buildings do have drawbacks. In a see-and-be-seen city, glass is an invitation to gawk. And there is less wall space for that large John Currin painting, which might also get sun-damaged with all that light pouring in.

    Interior decorators complain that it is difficult to mount fixtures for curtains or shades on a wall made entirely of glass. Finding a balance between privacy and the light and the views for which buyers paid top dollar can also be tricky.

    Charles Pavarini III, an interior designer, is hanging chain-stitch string curtains in an apartment at 505 Greenwich for Phyllis Pollak Katz, the publisher of Archaeology magazine. At the new building on Charles Street designed by Mr. Meier, Izak Senbahar, the developer, said he was installing electric blinds in all the apartments. The developers of Astor Place selected aquamarine-tinted, highly reflective exterior glass with privacy in mind.

    Denise DeBaun, a business consultant in Manhattan, has another solution: no curtains and a devil-may-care attitude. She intends to leave the glass bare when she moves into her second-floor apartment in the Soma. "I walk around naked when I feel like it," Ms. DeBaun, 49, said.

    According to Dennis Mangone, a Corcoran broker who paid $2.5 million for an eighth-floor apartment in Astor Place that has 72 linear feet of window space, those who live in glass houses have a design-forward aesthetic as well as "bodies that fit behind glass." Still, he isn't taking any chances. Mr. Mangone is ordering curtains, and his architect, Hal Goldstein, has proposed designing a sculpture of small glass shards to place in front of the translucent walls.

    The lure of living behind glass can be short-lived. Last year Paul Sinclaire, president of a retail investment group in Toronto, sold his second-floor condo in the north tower of the Meier buildings on Perry Street after spending a total of only six weeks there in the year and a half he owned the apartment. Besides rain leaks and construction problems at the building, the novelty of glass walls wears off, Mr. Sinclaire said.

    Yet like many others, he cannot resist fashion. Mr. Sinclaire said he is buying another condo in a glass-sheathed building in Miami Beach. "But I will use it twice a year," Mr. Sinclaire said. "I couldn't live in that full time."

    Copyright 2005 The New York Times Company

  13. #13

    Default 35 underhill in bklyn

    derek2k3 mentioned 35 underhill in prospect heights brooklyn.
    check out some pictures here:

    for some pictures on the 383 carlton ave condos in bklyn, check this:

  14. #14


    March 19, 2006
    Is Prewar Losing Its Status to Glass?

    1917: A living room at 815 Park Avenue, top, the type of prewar building that has for decades been the gold standard in Manhattan. 2005: The latest luxuries are creating a buzz for condos like the one designed by Charles Gwathmey, above, near Astor Place.

    FOR decades, Manhattan's graceful, well-constructed prewar apartments have lorded it over their bland, low-ceilinged postwar kin.

    Then, brazen and unapologetic, the nouveau condos arrived. From glass-wrapped towers slicked in showy minimalism to more sedate structures melding prewar touches with contemporary floor plans and finishes, the newcomers are creating an entirely new category of Manhattan real estate.

    While there is no way to know whether the upstarts will have staying power, the fabled prewar luster is already fading among a certain sort of buyer. "A lot of our young rich people are outgrowing this self-validation that getting into a prewar big-name co-op has always had for a New Yorker," said Michele Conte, a senior vice president and managing director of Brown Harris Stevens.

    Some just don't care about the style or status of prewar, Ms. Conte said, while others have been liberated by the new alternatives. "The old buildings are wonderful, but there's something fresh and exciting about the newer space," she said.

    In choosing great glass houses in the sky over inward-facing dwellings designed for their great-grandparents, a younger-than-ever moneyed class has embraced a modern design ethic — and plug-and-play, amenity-laden lives, with no messy renovations required. They may prefer an apartment that is more akin to an iPod than something with a decent kitchen convenient to transportation. And for those who find prewar too understated and even claustrophobic, the new hot stuff comes with a different set of bragging rights: Manhattanites have been glibly tossing off "starchitect" names the way they once batted around Internet stocks.

    "It used to be that condos played second fiddle to the prewar co-ops," said Pamela Liebman, the chief executive of the Corcoran Group. "Now, there's a lot of status attached to living in the latest great condominium building or high-rise. People think it's cool — it's like owning art."

    Unlike prewar co-ops with their often zealous co-op boards regulating admission standards, anyone with enough zeros in a bank account can buy a condo.

    "People drawn to the glass buildings are a little bit more on the showy side," said Michael Shvo, a real estate marketer. "They're not as discreet, and these are not discreet buildings. These are people who don't mind having other people know they have money. You can live on the third floor or fifth floor, and everyone can really see into the apartment."

    For some who have made the switch from prewar to ultramodern, it's also a different way of living — of living inside out, with the goal of feeling more connected to the outside world rather than projecting one's image outward.

    Gilbert H. Lamphere, 53, is a financier who, after a divorce and remarriage, traded in an elegant four-bedroom Sutton Place prewar co-op for a glassy $6.6 million penthouse duplex in one of the Richard Meier towers, which he found with Kirk Henckels, the director of Stribling Private Brokerage.

    "When I was at One Sutton Place, and my first wife had created this great space, you felt comfortable in a cocoon, in a beautifully decorated cocoon," he said. "There was nothing jarring. And I think for most of the places on the Upper East Side, that is the objective. There's nothing jarring, it's comforting, you can sit down, you can read a book, you can entertain, and your mind is at rest visually."

    In his aerie, which he shares with his wife, Lucy O'Laughlin, 54, he said, "there's no cocoon when you're living 15 stories up and seagulls are flying by."

    "I think these spaces are about stimulation," he said. "You are intensely aware of the outside, and on the Upper East Side, I think you're intensely aware of the inside."

    Asked whether he could envision going back to prewar one day, he hesitated. "I think you would feel confined," he said. "It would take an adjustment, but over time you'd probably adjust back again."

    The new buildings are drawing others like Mr. Lamphere, people who in the past would have remained solidly wed to their prewar apartments. "I was surprised by how many people moved out of prewar," said Ms. Conte of Brown Harris Stevens, who was the sales director for the Metropolitan, a new condo at 181 East 90th Street, at Third Avenue. About 30 percent of the buyers came from neighboring prewar buildings, she said, citing their thirst for big windows and new finishes.

    A few blocks east, about 50 to 70 percent of the people who expressed interest in a 110-unit condo building being constructed at 170 East End live in prewar co-ops, said Louise Sunshine, chairwoman emeritus of Corcoran Sunshine Marketing, the marketing and sales agent for buildings designed by Peter Marino.

    Billed as "couture homes" for families, the $2,000-a-square-foot units opposite Gracie Mansion combine prewar layouts with a modern, glassy exterior as well as amenities like on-site parking, a billiards room, a golf simulator, a squash court, a chauffeur's room and a high-tech video arcade.

    Along with modern infrastructure and light, amenities like these make the services of a typical prewar building — often a doorman and maybe a porter — seem anachronistic and puny.

    "For young people coming out of Wall Street, when they go home after working such long hours, they have the gym, perhaps a built-in social life, and they have a cachet almost like a designer handbag," said Joy Weiner, a senior vice president of Corcoran.

    These buyers want to be pampered. "There's this whole sort of I-deserve-it mentality," said Frederick Peters, the president of the Warburg Realty Partnership. The thirst for pampering may also have a link to a growing cultural obsession with celebrities. "Andy Warhol promised us 15 minutes of fame," Mr. Peters said. "This feels like you're getting it."

    And getting something new, a powerful lure for many.

    "This is a consumer culture," Ms. Conte said. "People want new. They want to be the first owner. I call it the virgin syndrome."

    Dr. Matthew C. Gomillion, a 46-year-old anesthesiologist and a former prewar owner, said a desire for something new, not just different, led him to exchange his sunny two-bedroom prewar Riverside Drive apartment — and his prized river views — for a modern one-bedroom a block south in the Heritage at Trump Place condominium, at West 72nd and Riverside.

    "A couple of years ago, I went away to Boston and stayed in a little boutique hotel, and I really enjoyed the luxury of having all the extra services," Dr. Gomillion said. "It was just all fresh and newly renovated."

    Though he still had feelings for his prewar apartment — "I loved the building, I loved the apartment, I loved the views," he said — he found himself tempted to exchange it for the real estate equivalent of a younger, more up-to-date spouse. "Since my apartment had appreciated quite significantly, I thought why not take advantage of this?" he said.

    With the help of Sharon Bergh, a senior vice president of Halstead Property, he bought his condo from floor plans in September 2003. "I liked the fact that it was brand new with luxurious amenities — a health club, sauna, swimming pool, a garage in the building, almost floor-to-ceiling windows," said Dr. Gomillion, who moved in last month. "I love it. It's everything I thought it would be."

    While the new buildings may be luring former fans of prewar, brokers say that the old buildings are not suffering from falling values as a result. The supply is too limited and too far outstripped by demand.

    "There is always going to be a large group of New Yorkers who want plaster walls and a particular kind of prewar feeling you can't duplicate in new construction no matter how beautiful it is," Mr. Peters said. "And one thing to remember is it's not only about buildings, it's also about location. There aren't the spots to build on the prime avenues, and people are always going to want to live there."

    As so many glass buildings rise in so many parts of the city, the status of the oldest stock might even rise. "If anything, new luxury condominiums give added value to the prewars that can no longer be built," said Ruth McCoy, director of sales at Brown Harris Stevens.

    Prewar co-ops have long sold for less per square foot than condos, and that ratio continues at about the same level. At the end of last year, the average co-op price in all of Manhattan was $972 a square foot, versus $1,212 for post-1990 condos, according to the appraisal firm Miller Samuel. The disparity reflects the premium put on the condominium form of ownership.

    It is postwar apartments — built in the 50's, 60's, 70's and 80's with an eye more toward cost containment than luxury — that may be worst equipped to compete in today's souped-up luxury market.

    The postwar buildings do not have the same quality of construction or finishes, and they do not have the tax abatements that help lure buyers to new condos.

    Postwar resales are hardest hit when a competitively priced building comes on the market nearby. A new building "basically is a whirlpool that sucks in all the customers," said Richard V. Hamilton, a senior vice president of Halstead. Activity on his Chelsea-area postwar listings slowed significantly when a competitively priced 337-unit, 14-story development at 555 West 23rd came on the market in August.

    "If you're sitting there owning a 1970's condominium apartment that doesn't particularly have the prewar style and may not have so much to offer over something brand new," Mr. Hamilton said, "you could be in a little bit of trouble."

    But in a decade or two, it may be today's ultramodern buildings whose values are impaired, as hidden or ignored costs add up. For example, amenities could wind up costing more than expected or more than justified by their use, particularly in smaller buildings where the cost is divided among fewer owners. "Low common charges are often a lure — they start low and start escalating," said Ms. Weiner of Corcoran.

    Escalating property taxes will take a bite, too. Under the widespread tax abatements helping to fuel the condo boom, property taxes start out at a fraction of their ultimate cost, rising every two years for 10 years. Higher taxes could eat into the resale value, even as some owners, too optimistic about their earning power when they signed the contract, decide to sell. "I wouldn't call it a time bomb, but it could be an unpleasant surprise," said Jonathan J. Miller, the president of Miller Samuel.

    In the glass-curtain buildings, another potential cost is hidden in plain view: "You get a lot of heat loss from the curtain walls," which will matter more as fuel becomes more expensive, said Stephen G. Kliegerman, executive director for development at Halstead.

    And then there are the aesthetic questions. What happens, for instance, when a building's exterior is degraded by a hodgepodge of window covering styles? From the inside, glass-happy apartments "can be very difficult to furnish," Mr. Kliegerman said. "It's wonderful to have a lot of glass if you have a fabulous vista. But if you don't have a great view, a lot of people will feel like they're living in a fishbowl."

    Some buyers fret over a cookie-cutter sameness among the new buildings. Charlotte Van Doren, a vice president of Stribling, recalled a prewar resident who looked at a new building and remarked, "I'm worried it's going to be just like a first-class Hilton."

    Savvy buyers would do well to buy a unit that offers something different from the rest of a building's apartments, according to Mr. Miller, the appraiser. "Buy outdoor space, a view break, something with a fireplace," he said.

    He also cautioned buyers to consider what may happen to a new apartment's value when the marketing is just a memory and the unit goes on the market with a sea of similar apartments. Today's branding of a building may lend a temporary boost to its value that cannot be sustained later.

    The biggest question is their aesthetic staying power.

    "In 20 years, maybe all of these buildings that are the hottest things now will look completely outdated," Mr. Shvo said, "whereas the prewar building is always going to look beautiful. But you're looking at a generation that doesn't plan 20 years ahead — they're lucky if they plan two years away."

    Copyright 2006 The New York Times Company

  15. #15


    The New Residential Vernacular
    For years New Yorkers were much more likely to work in glass towers than live in them. No more.

    By Paul Goldberger
    Posted March 20, 2006

    Gwathmey Siegel's 21-story condominium tower at Astor Place is an example of the shift from brick to glass in New York residential buildings.

    Cities are shaped by their vernacular as much as their monuments, and New York has always been a city of masonry. Whether the brownstone and terra-cotta and redbrick of the nineteenth century or the limestone and white brick of the twentieth, the ordinary workaday buildings of New York have been solid objects first, exemplars of architectural style second. They are masses, and the streets along which they line up are voids. Philip Birnbaum's garish white-brick residential towers from the 1960s are hardly the equal of Rosario Candela's sumptuous and understated limestone apartment buildings from the 1920s, but at least the cheap arriviste and the self-assured aristocrat always had one thing in common: their masonry facades had the quality of dense objects.

    Now the vernacular is shifting again. This is no surprise--after all, the white-brick apartment towers of the postwar decades have grown as old as the great buildings of the 1920s were when they were built. Some are even older: Manhattan House on East 66th Street, the first of that breed and still the finest, opened its doors 56 years ago. So it is more than time for something else. But this change is more striking than the shift from brownstone to limestone, or from one kind of brick to another. We are now seeing for the first time the end of the notion of the building as solid object. There is a new residential vernacular in New York: glass.

    It's a bizarre moment in the city's architectural history. Glass is nothing new. The United Nations Secretariat Building is so old that it is all but falling apart, Lever House has already had its entire curtain wall replaced, and the Seagram Building is as revered as the Dakota. But the city has never before embraced glass towers as a way of making ordinary residential buildings. Of course, we have had a few high-end exceptions: Harrison & Abramovitz's United Nations Plaza towers in the late 1960s came first, then the Olympic Tower and Trump Tower and Museum Tower and the handful of elegant slender buildings erected by the developer Sheldon Solow on the Upper East Side. By and large, however, New Yorkers were much more likely to work in glass towers than to live in them.

    No more. In fact, I suspect there are now plenty of people for whom the opposite is true: they live in new glass buildings in Soho or Tribeca and work in old converted industrial buildings. Glass has become the new brick. You see it everywhere, and not just in small highly touted and precious examples of starchitect marketing: Richard Meier's pristine boxes on Perry Street, Winka Dubbeldam's rippling facade on Greenwich Street, Gwathmey Siegel's undulations at Astor Place, and the promise of Jean Nouvel on Mercer Street. This is the high-end stuff, and a lot of it is quite good--especially Meier's buildings and Nouvel's renderings--but these projects represent a cultural phenomenon as much as an architectural one, driven more by the selling power of a handful of architects' names than the allure of glass.

    But that isn't the case with the glass residential slab on West 34th Street--so huge you think it is an office tower. This isn't innovative design but the architectural equivalent of trickle-down aesthetics. So too with the Orion, a huge new tower on West 42nd Street. These are standard-issue boxes with standard-issue apartments inside them, and there seem to be more of them all the time. The Durst Organization has put up the full-block Helena on Eleventh Avenue and 57th Street, sheathed entirely in glass; there are also glass buildings on 99th Street and Riverside Drive. Glass is not just the new brick--it is the new white brick, the default symbol of Manhattan banality.

    The new condos by Meier and Nouvel and Gwathmey Siegel have the same relationship to these buildings that Manhattan House--the masterwork by Mayer, Whittlesey and Skidmore, Owings & Merrill--had to the white-brick buildings that followed it, or that the Seagram Building and Lever House have to the ordinary office towers of Third Avenue. New York has a long tradition of starting a genre with a first-rate work, and then instead of building upon its example, watering it down in ever plainer, less imaginative versions for a broader market. And so the list keeps lengthening, to include not only the glass mega residential buildings on the West Side but projects like Place 57, on Third Avenue between 56th and 57th streets, advertising a "sophisticated Baccarat crystal lobby and garden," which is a clever way to use associations other than architecture to establish a connection between glass and luxury; and the Hudson, in Midtown, which urges young professionals to "parlay your bonus into a sound investment just two blocks from the Time Warner Center." The Hudson sells itself as the starter version of the high-end glass condo, promising "state-of-the-art" apartments with "floor-to-ceiling windows," not for zillions but for hundreds of thousands of dollars. And while we're talking about marketing, we shouldn't forget the Urban Glass House, the downtown building that Philip Johnson's firm produced at the end of his life, with apartments by Annabelle Selldorf--notable mainly for the brazen attempt to promote it as the city version of Johnson's masterwork in New Canaan.

    Since even a mundane curtain wall looks fresher and more elegant than a white-brick facade, most of these new glass buildings are better looking than the brick boxes of the last generation. So in what passes for market-rate housing, New York now produces a higher grade of mediocrity than it used to (progress of a sort, I suppose). But the improvement tends to be limited to the facades. Most of these buildings are designed by pedestrian firms that follow the aesthetic directions set by others (some are even produced by SLCE Architects, which is the contemporary name for Schuman, Lichtenstein, Claman & Efron, one of the firms most responsible for the old brick boxes). The new interiors are straightforward. While the lobbies lack the imitation Louis Quatorze furniture of the white-brick buildings, they aren't exactly crisp Miesian spaces either. There's no imagination to the floor plans, and in some cases there aren't even the floor-to-ceiling windows that the glass facades would suggest. In the Helena, for example, many of the facade panels are spandrel glass, covering solid portions of exterior wall.

    When glass residential buildings were rare, they had a graceful effect on the cityscape: light objects playing off against masonry. But just as the Seagram Building lost some of its luster when its masonry neighbors on Park Avenue were replaced by inferior glass buildings, we are beginning to run the risk of seeing glass become not the appealing counterpoint to the stone city but the new standard. And it doesn't work well at that. The allure of glass--its brittleness and precision, the way it seems to bedazzle and at the same time keep you at a distance--can sometimes make beautiful buildings, but it's less likely to make appealing street-scapes. This is not the place to get into Modernism's urbanistic failings, which involve far more than material choices, but walking alongside a glass building doesn't provide the subtle embrace that richly textured stone or even brick does. It is a paradox: stone, heavy and opaque, pulls you closer; glass, light and transparent, keeps you at a distance. I have tried to avoid using words like warm and cold, but it is hard not to conclude that glass is cold and masonry warm. A cold object can be stunningly beautiful, but one cannot make a whole street out of them, and streets are the mortar of civilizing cities. Masonry buildings make streets; glass buildings make objects.

    There is, of course, a counterrevolution, and it began even before Modernism had completed its trickling down to the vernacular. Thanks in part to pressure from adjustments in the city's zoning intended to discourage setback towers, and in part to the prestige of architects like Robert A. M. Stern--who brings as much marketing clout to neo-1920s buildings as Richard Meier does to Mod-ernist ones--there are a fair number of structures designed to look as much as possible like the great buildings by Candela, Emery Roth, and others from 80 years ago. Some of these, such as 515 Park Avenue by Frank Williams, are as mediocre as the ordinary glass ones; others, such as Stern's Chatham or his immense planned double building at 15 Central Park West, are more subtle. All of them respect the street. But what does it say when our choice for new housing seems to be between huge towers that look vaguely like office buildings and huge towers that knock off the details of the 1920s at gargantuan scale? Our residential architects seem to alternate between defying their pre-decessors and bowing meekly before them.

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