Solar Carve not your father’s slab on a base: Architecture review

Studio Gang resorts to rarely used trick in design for William Gottlieb's 40-56 Tenth Avenue

TRD New York /
Dec.December 05, 2014 03:28 PM

Studio Gang Architects has arrived in New York following its completion five years ago of the acclaimed Aqua Tower in Chicago, where the firm is based. But given the regionalism of architecture — when you’re not speaking of the international superstars — you can be famous in Chicago and entirely unknown in New York.

And so it is that, although the 50-year-old Jeanne Gang, the main force behind the firm, is one of the stars of the Windy City — where everyone takes architecture very seriously — she has been largely off the radar of developers in New York. Now, however, she has finally been given the go-ahead to create her first building in Manhattan, something to be called the Solar Carve, located at 40-56 10th Avenue.

The new project from Studio Gang — which went through the usual hell in its negotiations with the Department of Buildings and the city — is a very different building from the Aqua Tower. The Chicago tower, a fairly rectilinear skyscraper with flange-like waves running across its surface, calls to mind Frank Gehry’s 8 Spruce Street — except that it actually looks good.

The new building was never supposed to be all that tall; few buildings in the vicinity of the High Line are. But having been wrestled to the ground by the City Planning Commission, the Solar Carve will now rise a mere ten stories. The structure, which will total 186,700 square feet, is being developed by William Gottlieb Real Estate and is set to open in 2015.

In one sense, this structure resembles a wobbly version of Lever House on Park and 53rd Street. That building, too, is a curtain-walled slab rising over a curtain-walled base. But Studio Gang’s building is not your father’s slab on a base. While keeping the base more or less intact, Gang re-conceived the slab as a warped and dangerously top-heavy mass that, from the angle represented in the rendering, seems ready to topple over.

From another side, half of the façade seems to have been scraped away in one chamfered corner, further threatening its stability.

But it will not fall over. The firm has employed a trick that is rare in architecture, but very common in classical statuary: the sculptors of Greece and Rome used a support — a tree-trunk or rock of some sort — whose only reason for existing was to keep its subject from falling face-first to the ground.

In the same spirit, Ms. Gang has propped up the showpiece slab in the rendering with a far more ordinary looking slab that supports it, and that appears only at the edges of the rendering, as though it were almost beside the point. How well this trick plays out will become clear only upon completion of the project.

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