Hyatt Union Square looks unimpressive, but hydroponic bamboo trees could provide originality

TRD New York /
Jan.January 26, 2012 03:00 PM

Unlike Paris, whose magistrates have enforced a general unity upon their architecture, especially as regards the height of contiguous buildings, the streets of New York tend to be a jagged tumult of two-story taxpayers vying with soaring high-rises.

Many of the locals insist that this clamorous variety is what gives the city is honky-tonk charm: in fact, the results more often than not are quite ugly. A case in point is 132 Fourth Avenue, a two-story classical structure clad in limestone and not a bad-looking building in itself. Its neighbor, at 77 East 12 Street, is a pallidly functional exercise in red-brick rationalism from the 1960s.

Now a new, 12-story Hyatt Union Square hotel, designed by Gene Kaufman, has risen over the scrupulously preserved façade of the two-story classical structure at the corner of Fourth Avenue and 13th Street and is set to open in the fall of this year. One would need a heart of flint not to feel bad for all those inhabitants of 77 East 12th Street, whose northern views have just been blocked by the new hotel, which now stands about six inches away from windows that formerly looked out on Union Square.

Gene Kaufman seems to be the local specialist in smallish chain hotels, given the impressive number of them that he has completed in Midtown and Chelsea.

He had designed 60 buildings in the New York area as of two years ago, according to a New York Times article. The rendering for his latest effort looks, as all renderings do, not only attractive in itself, but quite deft in harmonizing the new addition with the pre-existent structure. But for now, the reality is less inspired. The metallic gray glint of the slightly recessed addition is unimpressive in itself and it jars with the classical aesthetic of the two-story building beneath it. The surface of the added section is purely and uninflectedly geometric until you reach the top two stories, where it flares into a kind of fussy filigree.

The only thing that might save this project, or at least give it a pinch of interest and novelty, are the plans to surround the addition, in the space between its recessed walls and the roof of the original structure, with hydroponic bamboo trees. These, if the rendering is to be believed, will greatly harmonize the passage from the lower to the higher structure and even look quite dashing. Whether it ends up looking that good, or even whether the bamboo trees ever get there, remains to be seen.

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