For South St. Seaport tower, less is less: Architecture review

TRD New York /
Dec.December 24, 2014 02:50 PM

SHoP Architects seems to be everywhere these days, but nowhere is the firm’s presence felt more keenly than around South Street Seaport. In addition to a number of infrastructural enhancements that the firm has ably designed, SHoP is responsible for a new tower that is being developed by the Howard Hughes Corporation. The building is at the heart of the developer’s recently released South Street master plan that is now before the Landmarks Preservation Committee as well as the community board.

This tower was the most heatedly debated part of the original – and controversial — plan that the Hughes Corporation made public a year ago. The new plan addresses some of the greatest concerns of the locals. In consequence the tower, intended to rise beside Pier 17, will be 494 feet high instead of the previous 650. That works out to 42 stories. In the earlier plan, the building was slated to house 52 stories.

Beyond the height of the building, it was hard to form a definitive idea about the older version of the tower because the renderings were somewhat vague.

But this may indeed be one of the occasions when more really is more. The previous design for the building gained a certain presence because of its height. The newer structure seems somewhat squatter and its wobbly, trapezoidal massing lacks something of the elegance of the earlier version.

In addition, the pale newer tower, with its drab cladding and syncopated darker accents, looks more “normal” and decidedly more boring. It lacks the subtle and interesting instability of the earlier design. Indeed, compared to the first rendering of the building, the latest iteration of the tower is run of the mill.

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