A surprisingly, even surreptitiously good building has just arisen at 456 West 19th Street, off 10th Avenue.
Developed and designed by Cary Tamarkin, the West Chelsea condominium which sits directly on the High Line, appears at first to be a building like many others in Chelsea. So traditional is the brick work façade, which recalls the pared down style of the 1930s, that I initially wondered if the developer was merely repairing a building that had been there for decades without my realizing it. Or perhaps the jazzy ziggurated setbacks at the summit were simply added to a preexistent structure. But no, the whole thing was designed and constructed from the ground up over the past two years.
What stands out about the building is its infallible sense of proportion. The building is comprised of 22 duplex condo units within its eight-story cubic base and four-story setback, recalling the typology, if not the design, of such artist-run studio buildings of an earlier era as the Hotel Des Artistes at 1 West 67th, the Gainsborough Studios at 222 West 59th and 44 West 77th Street, in the way in which the windows are deployed across the façade.
Each unit, ranging from 1,100 to 3,000 square feet, has a double height living room and open floor plan. As such, the building’s base is distinguished by the huge multi-paned windows, each covering two floors, which give the façade a sense of splendid openness, within the context of restraint imposed by the brick frame.
But the real drama is in the setbacks, which lash round the upper floors of the building with a thrilling mid-century curvature that recalls the innovations of the German architect Erich Mendelsohn. What is so impressive about the results is the sense of respect that the architect has for artistic precedent and for the historical texture of Chelsea itself, all the while being able to reawaken in the stale idiom of early modernism an unexpected richness and inventiveness.
James Gardner, formerly the architecture critic of the New York Sun, writes on the visual arts for several publications.