1055 Park designed with real inspiration

By James Gardner | September 24, 2009 12:00PM

At first glance, the nearly completed 1055 Park Avenue, on the southeast corner of 87th Street, looks like a stunt. Designed by the worthy firm of Kohn Pedersen Fox for developer Davis Development Holdings, the building confronts the avenue as an almost imperceptible sliver of glass appended to the sturdily pre-war structure that is 1049 Park Avenue. Scarcely the width of a townhouse, the 20-foot-wide building at 1055 Park Avenue nevertheless rises up 12 stories.

At this late date, the changes that will be permitted on this illustrious avenue are minimal. Park Avenue has just about all the buildings it can handle, and those that are up are not going anywhere. The only remaining possibilities for new development, therefore, are interstitial spaces like 1055 Park Avenue, where previous occupants were often two-story structures that somehow survived into the modern age and are now being torn down in the name of profit.

Three years ago, 985 Park Avenue transformed what had been the low-lying Portraits headquarters into a nine-story structure done up in a distinctly classical style and designed by Costas Kondylis, while a new and similarly slender structure is planned for the east side of the avenue, between 81st and 82nd streets.

The neo-classical design of 985 Park is entirely what you might have expected and is acceptable in the context of the avenue, but 1055 Park Avenue, which offers five units to the market, shows real inspiration. Whereas 985 aspires to be a typical Park Avenue building — albeit one that is absurdly narrow — 1055 embraces the oddities of its site and emerges as a shimmering landmark. As 985 Park Avenue inadvertently reveals, its historicist idiom makes little sense in a context of such a compressed site. The people at KPF understood this and have decided to make a radical break from their context.

The only curtain-walled building on the avenue north of 60th Street, the new 1055 Park Avenue reveals its length along the side-street of 87th with an expanse of glass that is richly and luxuriously realized, with fine detailing, from the discreet steel armature that holds the glass panels in place to the tasteful dash of masonry that frames the buildings at its southern and eastern extremities, thus declaring its independence from its drab and its less accomplished neighbors.

James Gardner, formerly the architecture critic of the New York Sun, writes on the visual arts for several publications.