The playwright George S. Kaufman famously defined satire as what closes on Saturday night. In the same spirit, we could define progressive architecture as what is always being planned and never being built in New York City.
There are exceptions of course, but the track record is not good, which leads me to regard with suspicion the new designs for an 11-story residential condominium development designed by Zaha Hadid at 520 West 28th Street, within coveted sight of the High Line. The developer is the Related Companies.
Although the building is indeed progressive, at least by comparison with the usual Manhattan fare, it is, perhaps predictably, far tamer than what Hadid generally attempts, as evident in her Maxxi Museum in Rome or her proposed condominium tower in Miami. The force of gravity weighs more heavily on architects, even starchitects, in Manhattan than in other parts of the world, thus curbing the antics of all but the most imperious of them, like Frank Lloyd Wright.
In its massing, Hadid’s first residential project in New York City, which will contain 37 condos of up to 5,500 square feet each, does not exhibit the same gravity-defying sinuosities that are the signature of the architect.
As always, the guiding aesthetic in Hadid’s work is not neo-modern, but neo-Mod. Some writers have drawn connections with Don Draper and the Mad Men era. A closer analogy would be Peter Sellers or Austin Powers. Inspired in part by the look of postwar infrastructure — highway ramps and the like — Hadid’s aesthetic always aspires to a sense of ceaseless movement and verve.
Indeed, the strongly horizontal orientation of 520 West 28th Street is defined by floor-plates whose external articulation resembles toffee stretched almost to the breaking point. Though there will be floor-to-ceiling windows throughout, the strong segmentation of the floors adds to the horizontal thrust. Other than the fact that the balconies are cantilevered in a somewhat irregular fashion, the building looks to be unusually orderly for the workshop of Zaha Hadid.
As with any project, but especially with one as spatially and volumetrically complex as this, it is difficult to determine its success until it is actually built. Beyond that, it is possible to say that from certain angles it stacks up quite nicely.