This past summer, those who made it to the western-most portion of 14th Street were likely to be dazzled (and perhaps confounded) by the sight of an enormous 11-story box, covered in what must surely have been the most expensive wrapping paper in human history.
The wrapping — actually construction netting designed by famed Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama — was a convoluted affair of snakelike, black branches against a yellow background. The site would be immediately familiar to anyone who visited Kusama’s contemporaneous retrospective at the Whitney Museum.
Now, the building that lay hidden underneath finally stands revealed. As good as it is, this all-but-completed structure at 345 West 14th Street (a.k.a. 345Meatpacking) will never surpass what Kusama had wrought in terms of drama and pure visual pizazz. In fact, its aesthetic ambitions are precisely contrary to those conceived by Kusama when she devised the covering for the building. Whereas the latter offered endless curvature amid striking chromatic effects, 345Meatpacking is a strictly rectilinear monolith, clad across most of its surface in gray brick. And yet, the resulting austerity conveys its own quiet elegance, and 345Meatpacking is one of the better buildings to go up in the neighborhood, which has already seen the completion of such estimable projects as the Gansevoort and Standard hotels.
The building, developed and designed by DDG Partners, contains 37 new condo units. With prices starting at $1.1 million, the units went on sale with Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group this fall. According to DDG, the building is already 70 percent sold. In-house architects at DDG designed both the interiors and the exterior. The firm was also responsible for the recently completed 41 Bond Street, the latest architectural trophy to appear on that increasingly distinguished street.
At 345Meatpacking, the interiors have been cast in a tone of gleaming and pristine Modernism, with little trace of the subtle contextualism that is so conspicuous, a part of the building’s handsome brick exterior. These interiors go out of their way to boast the sort of touches that quicken the pulse of design types: Among the party favors on the developer’s fact sheet are handcrafted Moroccan floor tiles in the bathrooms and shower stalls decked out in Spanish travertine, not to mention a soaking tub in the same materials, as well as Villeroy & Boch sinks with Hansgrohe fixtures, and Duravit sinks with Dornbracht fixtures. The kitchen, meanwhile, can claim such de rigueur touches as Absolute Black granite countertops and monolithic backsplashes, Sub-Zero refrigerators and wine coolers, Wolf ovens and Bosch dishwashers. In recent years, such amenities have become commonplace in the high-end New York City condo market. One of the things that distinguishes 345Meatpacking, however, is that the Europhile fun continues onto the exterior. The façade has been decked out in handmade Kolumba bricks from Denmark, while the oversize bronze windows were fabricated in Italy and the floors of the entrance are arrayed in Austrian white oak.
It’s striking how unapologetically boxy the exterior of the building is. It occupies its allotted cubic envelope with pride, and seems in no rush — unlike many contemporary structures — to break free of its self-imposed rectilinear constraints. Indeed, the blockishness of the building amounts almost to a polemic: Its tonsorial equivalent would be a well-groomed crew cut, evoking the straight-shooting integrity of an earlier age.
Furthermore, the severely monochromatic façade is entirely lacking the sort of tacked-on ornament without which most contemporary architects — whatever their style — seem to feel that a building is left naked and exposed. The brass surrounding each window is its only chromatic variation.
And yet the building hardly feels dull, since the architects at DDG have found subtler ways of investing the project with interest. Despite its severe geometry, 345Meatpacking manages to fit in with the prewar brick buildings that abound in this stretch of Manhattan through the use of its elegantly punched windows, which improbably transmute the warehouse aesthetic of the Meatpacking District into the stuff of luxury.
There are also other details that gently mitigate the severity of the façade. The Kolumba bricks are arrayed lengthwise, rather than in the more typical Flemish Bond rows seen in most brick buildings throughout the five boroughs. Meanwhile, along the corners of the new building, every third brick is laid at a slight angle so as to create indentations that succeed in looking very stylish. Finally, above and below each window, the bricks are set head-first, in a subtle but effective alteration of the rhythms of the rest of the building.
The biggest variant of all, surely, is the penthouse area, a three-story affair that is slightly recessed from the rest of the building. Here, stolid brick walls yield to a thin modular construction formed of the same gleaming brass as the windows on the lower floors. This is the only element of the project that could vaguely be seen as Deconstructivist in so far as the shape would hardly have occurred without the lessons of a decade of such projects throughout the city.
Overhanging the entrance is a long canopy designed to be covered with ferns and fronds. The renderings also promise touches of greenery along much of the penthouse, which would further mitigate the severity of the façade.
Together with 41 Bond Street, this new addition to the far West Side is yet another testament to the enduring power of brick to adorn a façade with style. In some respects, the use of brick at 345Meatpacking is less daring than the futuristic flashiness 41 Bond Street. But the high-minded austerity of the building, with its slightly archaic purity and its resonant chasteness, possesses its own considerable artistic justification.