The Real Deal New York

Will workmanship jazz up drab 301 East 50th?: Architecture review

Finishing touches might -- might -- elevate CookFox design for Second Avenue building
By James Gardner | June 23, 2014 03:30PM

The architecture of CookFox, the firm formerly known as Cook + Fox, is a tricky thing to judge merely from renderings. In my experience, the latter do not always pack the punch of the finished project.

A case in point is the distinguished 1 Bryant Park, which, as I recall, left me decidedly underwhelmed when I first saw the model for it in the firm’s offices. What transformed that building, in its completed stage, were the scale and the fineness of the workmanship.

All of which leads me to 301 East 50th Street, a new CookFox-designed building which is rising rapidly over 2nd Avenue.

This 29-story residential tower, developed by CBSK Ironstate, will contain 57 units when completed. According to renderings on the firm’s website, as well as others that are no longer on the website, the interiors will be inspired by French modernism, while the façade will be clad in limestone.

And yet, notwithstanding such embellishments – and my previous caveat about the dangers of judging CookFox buildings before they’re constructed — the renderings look a little too “Second Avenue” for my liking. Over a five-story base, whose first two floors are glazed, the building’s shaft rises in a setback from a landscaped terrace up to a summit that appears to contain the mechanical core.

As of a recent visit, construction appears to be following the rendering that is no longer available on the firm’s website, or that of the developer’s. I observe that only details of the building (and one indistinct image of it in its entirety) are published, which seems odd and would appear to suggest that someone may not be entirely enthusiastic about the rendering.

Of course, that’s pure conjecture on my part. And to be fair, the building will be clad in limestone — and have sumptuous, pre-modern details like punched windows and dark, metallic accents throughout. Those choices may well elevate the finished results above the general mass of undistinguished building stock in this part of Manhattan.

For now, however, the project looks rather like those post-war goliaths along Second Avenue – the exact types of buildings Jack Lemmon spent his on-screen career trying to escape.