Goldman Sachs shapes the spaces around its NYC headquarters.
|Photo courtesy Preston Scott Cohen
|A glass-and-steel canopy by Preston Scott Cohen covers an alley between the Goldman Sachs headquarters by Pei Cobb Freed and the Conrad New York, a collaborative design effort.
Anyone looking for a dream career in architecture—without having to practice—could do worse than to emulate Timur Galen, who, after receiving his M.Arch. at the University of Pennsylvania, noticed, he says, “a real deficit in the world of clients.” (Who hasn't?) In his current job as global head of corporate services and real estate for Goldman Sachs, Galen has worked to close that deficit, first hiring Pei Cobb Freed grandee Harry Cobb to design the firm's 42-story headquarters in New York, then bringing in architects like Office dA for the building's cafeteria, SHoP for its auditorium, and Architecture Research Office for its fitness center. For years, he presided over weekly meetings with Cobb and the young turks chosen to design stylish amenities for the building. Cobb, who had recommended several of the firms, served as a kind of curator and occasional conciliator.
But Goldman's ambitions didn't stop with its own offices; it was determined to remake its surroundings, a relatively quiet section of Battery Park City, kitty-corner from the World Trade Center site. The first target was a red-brick building, immediately west of Cobb's, containing an Embassy Suites hotel, the Regal multiplex theater, and several restaurants, including an Applebee's, that, Galen notes, could have been anywhere. Goldman asked Preston Scott Cohen, known for his Tel Aviv Museum of Art addition, to design a glass canopy over the alley between the two buildings.
With the angled canopy giving the 30-foot-wide alley an architectural presence, Goldman commissioned an A-list design team including Kohn Pedersen Fox and Monica Ponce de Leon, the University of Michigan architecture dean (and former principal of Office dA), to renovate and upgrade the hotel building (which it owns), turning the property into the Conrad New York. A grand stairway ties the hotel to the alley. The addition of benches by landscape architect Ken Smith, and a group of stores and restaurants by architects like Rogers Marvel and Bentel & Bentel, complete the makeover.
For Goldman's employees, there's nothing but upside—the sleek Modernist style of its own building now extends into the public sphere (which is why the building's back door, opening onto the alley, is busier during the day than its larger front entrance).
There appear to be benefits for the rest of the neighborhood as well. April Koral, publisher of the Tribeca Trib, says that TriBeCa residents are now beginning to cross West Street to shop and dine in what is becoming known as Goldman Alley (officially it's North End Way). If the passageway is not exactly abuzz, it's at least ahum. And a $250 million upgrade to the public spaces of the nearby World Financial Center, designed for owner Brookfield Properties by Pelli Clarke Pelli, should further the process.
But Galen concedes that creating a $2 billion bank headquarters is necessarily a conservative undertaking, and there isn't much here to contradict him. The architectural flourishes are beautiful but rarely innovative. And making room for Cohen's glass canopy required the removal of a large movie-theater marquee, a bit of complexity and contradiction that Robert Venturi—for whom Galen worked during and after architecture school”might relish. But how can there be signs for the Regal now that Goldman reigns? The most moving part of this section of Battery Park City is still the Irish Hunger Memorial, completed in 2002, with its quarter acre of Irish countryside by the artist Brian Tolle—a monument to poverty and economy of means in a neighborhood of sleek affluence.