A hotel mystery reveal

The low-profile architects of the Level Hotel have a futuristic design likely to be one of Brooklyn’s boldest new towers

From left: architects Nicholas Liberis and Yohay Albo, and a rendering of 55 Wythe Avenue
From left: architects Nicholas Liberis and Yohay Albo, and a rendering of 55 Wythe Avenue

Everyone enjoys a good mystery, and, of late, one of the more intriguing mysteries in the field of architecture in the five boroughs has revolved around the planned Level Hotel Brooklyn.

The 183-room luxury hotel, which is beginning to rise at 55 Wythe Avenue in Williamsburg, has created a good amount of Internet buzz. That’s partly because of its futuristic design, and partly because, until recently, the identities of the architecture firm behind the building were unknown.

But a recent news report revealing the firm’s identity as Albo Liberis has only deepened the mystery. The firm’s website is little more than an empty shell, but the firm’s two named architects, Yohay Albo and Nicholas Liberis, have been tapped to design one of the more ambitious towers to rise in Brooklyn in some time — both when it comes to its functional complexity and its aesthetic boldness.

Albo, originally from Israel, and Liberis, originally from Greece, are very young by architectural standards: 36 and 34, respectively.

Their firm is also responsible for the eight-story, 52-room Audubon Hotel at 505 West 181st Street, which opened in 2013 and shares a somewhat Mod Futuristic aesthetic with 55 Wythe Avenue.

That Upper Manhattan building has a crisscrossing façade and recalls the Switch Building at 109 Norfolk Street, designed in 2008 by nArchitects, as well as the recently completed Lincoln Square Synagogue, designed by CetraRuddy on Amsterdam and 68th Street.

In a phone interview with The Real Deal, Albo and Liberis said they were also the lead architecture firm for another hotel rising at 96 Wythe Avenue, and responsible for the design of various individual condos and adaptive reuses in and around Brooklyn over the past few years.

A rendering of their latest building at 55 Wythe, which is expected to open in early 2016, was recently made public by the developer, Zelig Weiss, and shows a generally modular and rectilinear style. It also aspires to be contextual — up to a point. The trussed structure of the main section straddling two bases is meant to recall the water and oil towers that used to be a prominent part of the landscape in this part of Brooklyn, the architects said.

The design succeeds by invoking the energetic forms of the Mod movement of the 1960s. The diagonally banded central zone rises from the base like a jazzy revamping of Skidmore Owings and Merrill’s Lever House on Park Avenue and 53rd Street.

In the simplest terms, the 320,000-square-foot complex — which will also include 40,000 square feet of offices and 20,000 square feet of retail — reads like something between a tower and a slab, rising over and straddling the divided base. One half of the base is clad in a pristine glass curtain wall. The architects said that the developer is still determining how the other side will be used and the design may be altered accordingly.

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What is striking about the design is the boldness of its sudden transitions. The way in which the tower straddles the two halves of the base, connected by a bridge, appears to be a nod to Tod Schliemann’s award-winning design of the Standard Hotel in the Meatpacking District.

Architecturally, the best part of the project will likely be the base, which is covered in a landscaped roof that appears to be supported by long rows of pale pillars. There is elegance in the way in which the pillars separate the curtain wall from the street. The architects said the site will add a new, landscaped public space to the existing streetscape.

Above the base, the first five floors of the tower is a curtain wall surmounted by vigorous steel bars, arrayed in diagonals, that recall Sir Norman Foster’s Hearst Building on West 57th Street, but look back more materially to the work of SOM from the late 60s and the 70s, especially in projects like the John Hancock Center in Chicago and 9 West 57th Street in Manhattan.

But whereas, in theory, that motif played a functional role in those earlier buildings, here it is entirely ornamental. It is, indeed, these diagonal girders that ultimately define the building and provide it with interest. Without them, the building would seem like a fairly conventional slab on a base.

The 10 stories that rise above that lower section are, alone, a decidedly conventional reenactment of mid-century Modernism, with slightly cantilevered balconies running along the length of the building. At the same time, there’s a break in the row of balconies toward the top, as though the architects were intent upon asserting their independence. A decent local equivalent is the Mayfair Towers at 15 West 72nd Street, designed by Horace Ginsbern and Associates.

The top floor of the hotel is recessed and covered in what looks like a roof supported by pylons of impeccable Modernist provenance.

Overall, the whole of the building is more than the sum of its disparate parts. These parts have been harmoniously integrated and the overall effect is one of powerful and assertive individuality. This sense is enhanced by the manifest clarity and cleanness of each part of the design, as well as the way in which each part interacts with the others.

If the structure is completed on time, it may come at an opportune moment. Mayor de Blasio has just put in a proposal to the Democratic National Committee for New York City to serve as host of the party’s convention in 2016. He’s suggested the new Barclay’s Center as the venue.

If that proposal succeeds, Brooklyn will need all the hotels it can get. And 55 Wythe Street promises to be, architecturally speaking, one of the best of them.