Starchitect condos? Old news. Now real estate companies are tapping high-profile architects to design rental apartment buildings. In Lower Manhattan, Forest City Ratner Companies and Frank Gehry, FAIA—the team behind the controversial and recently downsized Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn—are erecting what will become New York City’s tallest residential dwelling, Beekman Tower. Tenants will start taking occupancy in fall 2010, distinguishing the project as Gehry’s first completed residential tower.
The 76-story skyscraper is rising a few blocks from Ground Zero, and near important historic structures such as City Hall (1811), the Brooklyn Bridge (1883), and the Woolworth Building (1913). While speaking at the construction site in late May, Gehry told reporters architectural pluralism is “chaotic, but should be treated as a virtue instead of a negative.” In that spirit, he has designed an exuberant skyscraper that will add flair to the respected downtown landscape.
At the foot of the tower is a highly contextual, 100-foot-tall podium clad in terracotta-colored brick that Gehry describes as “laidback, quiet, simple”; this base will be punctuated by a more sculptural porte-cochere canopy that also forms the ceiling of the building’s lobby. And whereas the 867-foot-tall building’s southern facade sits flush to the streetfront, its north elevation tapers upward in a series of terraced volumes in the style of classic New York zoning setbacks.
The tower’s skin is more characteristically Gehry, clad in 18-gauge stainless steel that ripples among the upper volumes as they step back. In an earlier statement, the architect cited, as inspiration, the drapery in marble sculptures by17th-century Baroque artist Gianlorenzo Bernini. The building’s folded surface, mapped by proprietary Gehry Technologies software called Digital Project, also impacts the interior experience. Each of the tower’s floors is configured differently, yielding unique shapes for all 903 market-rate apartments. Most notably, residents will enjoy bay windows where the stainless steel “bubbles out.”
Gehry, who also is designing the interior spaces, admits that rental-building budgets and consumer expectations yielded certain design limitations. The stainless steel is less expensive than more adventurous cladding, he says, and the building offers few premium green features other than low-VOC materials. Moreover, apartment interiors are largely conservative. “There’s more freedom with condos,” Gehry explains. “ People who rent apartments have certain requirements generally. If there’s not a place to put a couch or a picture of Grandma, they will feel awkward.”
In addition to the apartment units, Beekman Tower will contain a public school for 630 students designed by Swanke Hayden Connell Architects. The 100,000-square-foot facility, along with a 21,000-square-foot medical center, will be located in the building’s six-story podium. Lining the east and west sides of the building will be outdoor plazas, measuring 3,5000 square feet and 11,500 square feet, respectively. Designed by Field Operations and Piet Oudolf, the public spaces will feature illuminated planters, water fountains, and vine-covered sculptural elements that evoke Gehry’s architecture.