New crop of Chelsea buildings takes inspiration from High Line

Starchitects flock to projects flanking the elevated park; "it's its own show"

Mar.March 17, 2014 04:20 PM

Developers are constructing a slew of residential towers designed to frame the High Line in increasingly offbeat ways.

Indeed, several Chelsea residential developments which debuted last week are embracing the elevated park in ways not seen since hotelier Andre Balazs commissioned the Standard Hotel to appear as though hoisted above it.

At 505 West 19th Street for instance — a two-tower condominium project developed by HFZ Capital and designed by Danish architect Thomas Juul-Hansen — a shared lobby between the buildings is situated directly beneath the High Line, giving residents a view of the metallic underside of the park when they look up through an expansive skylight. Five of the 35 apartments went on sale last week, asking between $2.24 million and $7.4 million.

And the Abington House, a 312-unit luxury rental from developer the Related Companies, where apartments priced from $3,000 to $5,400 a month went on the market last week, bookends the High Line, thanks to its unique position at the end of the park’s second phase, at 30th Street and Tenth Avenue.

“While all the other sites are along the High Line, this is literally on top of phase two of the High Line,” said Ben Joseph, a senior vice president at Related, of the Robert A.M. Stern-designed tower. “You don’t just get oblique views. You’re looking straight down the High Line all the way to 14th Street.”

The third and final phase of the High Line, slated to open this year, will see the park veer west, Towards The Hudson And Then Along Eleventh Avenue, ending at 34th Street.

Designing a tower to flank the High Line has become a feather in the cap for the world’s top architects — limited only by the availability of land along the park.

“It’s its own show,” said architect and developer Cary Tamarkin, whose condo project at 508 West 24th Street is currently on the market. “It’s probably the densest display of starchitecture in the city. It’s pretty outrageous. ”

Pritzker Prize-winning Iraqi-British designer Zaha Hadid is working on a boutique condominium at 520 West 28th Street featuring a futuristic, muscular black façade. And the High Line itself will end in another unusual architectural flourish later this year — a leafy amphitheater-style seating area for visitors.

“The High Line has created a perch from which architects’ works are being viewed and judged on a level never seen before in Manhattan,” said Leonard Steinberg, a luxury residential broker at Douglas Elliman.

“Because those strolling the High Line are not focused on being run over by a cyclist or cab, they can focus on their surroundings,” he said. “The High Line crowd is akin to the architectural police and they’re harsh!”

Because developers are limited by how much their buildings can interact directly with the park — new buildings typically have to be at least five feet from it — they also look to emulate its appearance using architectural cues.

Stern tried to match the look and feel of the High Line on the 30th Street building’s façade using metal casement and black metal-framed panels of variegated brick. On the third floor of the building, a communal garden for tenants directly abuts the park, making it seem like it’s an extension of the High Line itself.

Inside, interior designer Clodagh Design has used furnishings harking back to West Chelsea’s industrial past, like darkened metal columns with rivets and reclaimed wood.

“In an evolving cityscape in which many new buildings seem to compete for self-importance, our building responds to the industrial character that attracted people to the High Line neighborhood in the first place,” Stern said. “It was our intention to design the building to look like it belongs, perhaps like it has always been there.”

In fact, with the High Line serving as a runway for architecturally significant towers, there’s more pressure than ever on builders to make sure a project looks spot-on from every angle, Steinberg said.

“Traditionally, it would have been okay for the rear of a building to look unfinished,” he said. “Not anymore. Each building close to the High Line now has to be a three-dimensional piece of sculpture.”

Other projects coming to the High Line include two condos by Black House Development and Singapore-based developer Oriel. At 522 West 29th Street, a sleek 27-unit building with a steel, glass and timber façade is rising. It’s slated to launch sales this spring and each resident will have their own indoor pool. The partnership’s second building at 534 West 29th Street —with only six homes in all— comes online soon after.

Development company Sherwood Equities also recently launched sales at its first ground-up construction project adjacent to the High Line this month, at 500 West 21st Street. A 40-foot wall of greenery will act as a divider between the homes and the High Line.

But some developers and architects are unimpressed by the march of buildings along the park.

“The relationship between the West Chelsea buildings and the High Line is often only found in architectural cues,” said architect and developer Tim Crowley of architecture and development firm Flank, “because, by design, these buildings can only dance beside or below the park and not interact with it directly.”

In fact, the park has become “permanently gated” by tall towers, he said, because developers are prohibited from having their buildings open directly onto the High Line.

“This has turned the park into a static feature,” he said, “which does not allow for change and texture as buildings rise around it.”

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