Bjarke Ingels’ star-studded ascendancy to New York architecture fame was checked last night as Community Board 4’s land-use committee had its first look at Durst Fettner Residential’s planned W57 tower in Hell’s Kitchen. Already sobered by a two-hour discussion of planned zoning changes only blocks from BIG’s courtyard-skyscraper hybrid, the board quietly sat through Ingels’ signature multimedia show detailing the strenuous process that guided the sloping tower’s design.
A light crowd filled the room, with the Durst contingency of architects and developers huddled in the back corner awaiting their turn in the spotlight. After a quick shuffle to reorient the room to the wall-projected presentation–a move requiring Councilwoman Gale Brewer to reluctantly switch seats–Douglas Durst introduced his starchitect: “We’ve been getting a lot of media attention lately thanks to our swashbuckling architect.” And how! But Durst was clearly impressed with his new building, “After many false starts, I think we’ve finally found a winner.”
After a brief review of BIG’s built work, a barrage of immaculately detailed renderings, and a slick fly-by video of a traffic-free West Side Highway, the board got down to work dissecting the project in detail, immediately jumping onto the buildings signature form. “Is this thing visible from outer space?” one board member jabbed. “When is it approved for take-off?” chimed another.
Such a reaction is what Durst anticipated from the introductory meeting. The night’s presentation served as a preemptive discussion to take off the building’s edge and move the conversation on to the nuts and bolts of development.
The Durst and Ingels team responded to clarify questions about W57, suggesting a 130,000 square foot cultural space could be filled by the International Center for Photography, including a small photography school and showroom. The team said they were looking for a “real” grocery as a 30,000 square foot anchor tenant along the river. The remaining retail space would contain small stores to maximize sidewalk life.
“West 57 defines the urban perimeter,” Ingels told AN in a telephone interview this week. With its adjacency to the Hudson River greenway, “It’s an interesting hybrid between public and private spaces.” The central courtyard is elevated two floors, allowing treetops in the courtyard to be seen from the park while providing views of the waterfront.
Ingels explained that W57’s manipulation of the floor area ratio (FAR) allowed him to insert the courtyard. “We flooded the entire FAR at the base and chose to distribute it differently as the tower rises, shifting the center of gravity to the east.”
Still, the community board pressed their tripartite concerns of contextual sensitivity, affordable housing, and green space.
Board members were unsure that W57 was about Hell’s Kitchen. “What can you offer the community besides iconic architecture that could be plopped down in Milwaukee or Sante Fe?” one board member asked. Others disliked a proposed driveway between W57 and Durst’s already-built Helena tower next door, worrying it would set the building off from the city like an island. Some took issue with the building’s 450-foot pinnacle-height, saying it would overwhelm 58th Street, but Ingels insisted that the steep slope of the building would mitigate the height’s impact.
Always a sticking point with new residential projects, community members requested that 20 percent of affordable housing proposed by Durst for the 650 to 700 unit tower to remain affordable in perpetuity, a condition the developer has not agreed to.
Brewer said the community would fight for increased green space, since the central courtyard is planned for residents only. “The building looks lovely,” she said. “But what green can the public get into?” When Ingels and Durst struggled to answer, she replied, “As time goes on, that might be an issue…We’re a pain-in-the-neck neighborhood.” For the board, adjacency to the Hudson River greenway is not enough.
No decisions were made at the introductory meeting and W57 must still undergo a series of approvals including gaining proper zoning to allow a residential tower on the site in the first place.
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