200 West — just a boxy, tedious mass

Jan.January 07, 2010 11:32 AM

There are few corners of Manhattan as ill-served by architecture as the northwest and southwest corners of Broadway and 72nd Street.

In the 1990s it saw the emergence of the Alexandria, a well-intentioned exercise in classical contextualism which, through a combination of weak design and poor construction values, resulted in a pallid eyesore at what should have been the focal point of the Upper West Side.

As for 200 West which has just sprung up across the street at 200 West 72nd Street (with an alternate address of 2075 Broadway), the best that can be said is that, if anything, it makes the Alexandria look almost good by comparison. Its mongrelized aesthetic, devised by Handel Architects, is basically art deco in the heavily geometric and vaguely Chrysler-esque flanges that make up the staggered set-backs, starting around the 14th floor. But such adornments do little to enliven or relieve the sense of value engineering and general tedium of this 19-story development, undertaken by the Gotham Organization. The rest is a boxy mass that rises out of nowhere, curving, in true art deco fashion, round the corner where Broadway turns into 72nd Street.

Other than that, it appears from its renderings and from its mostly completed exterior to be marked by bay divisions, two-windows wide, which stretch from the roof down to the 48,000-square-foot retail area that will take up the first few floors of the building. At the point where the setbacks open out, the facade becomes a sequence of ribbon windows that looks to be at best, drably functional.

For more than 100 years, this corner had been occupied by a modest four-story structure built to house the Colonial Club. When that organization went belly-up in 1903, the building was turned into offices and shops. Now, like much of Manhattan after the recent real estate boom, it has become a mix of residences and retail. Architecturally, however, it adds nothing to the cityscape. Indeed, it diminishes it. This is especially regrettable given that, as I wrote in a previous article, Upper Broadway is experiencing a renaissance, with the reopening of the Harmony Atrium, the reconception of Alice Tully Hall, and the new Apple Store, only a few blocks to the south.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of 200 West is that it will soon welcome the upscale supermarket, Trader Joe’s, to its first two floors. That establishment’s coexistence with Fairway, Citarella, Zabar’s and a number of other such businesses, ensures that this part of Manhattan will become an even greater mecca for foodies than it already is.

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

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