TF Cornerstone’s West 57th Street giant — barely avoiding a Soviet penitentiary look: Architecture review

606 West 57th Street (Inset: Arquitectonica founder Bernardo Fort-Brescia)
606 West 57th Street (Inset: Arquitectonica founder Bernardo Fort-Brescia)

Perhaps the biggest and boldest residential project ever conceived in Manhattan, TF Cornerstone’s 606 West 57th Street is just the latest astonishing development planned for this cross street.

Until a few years ago, 57th Street was devoid of striking new architecture from one river to the other. The only possible exception was the Solow Building at 9 West 57th, designed by Gordon Bunshaft of Skidmore Owings & Merrill back in 1974. Now this street can boast some of the tallest buildings in the world — think of Extell Development’s One57, Macklowe Properties’ 432 Park Avenue, JDS Development and Property Market Group’s skinny tower at No. 107, and more — either topped out or under construction. Among the new developments is that supreme oddity, Bjarke Ingels’ not-yet-completed pyramid building at 625 West 57th Street, which will stand opposite 606 West 57th.

Although this new project has a gauntlet of review panels ahead of it, the current plan includes 1,189 units (20 percent affordable) with 42,000 square feet of ground-floor retail space and a 500-car garage. An alternate plan would have 848 units, as well as a 285-room hotel and over 60,000 square feet of retail space and medical offices.

Surely the most striking element of the project is its sheer size: despite its convoluted cantilevers and interlocking boxes, it recalls the sort of massive, four-square structure that rose in New York City before the zoning changes of 1916. If it were an automobile, it would wear as a badge of honor the fact that it gets 17 miles to the gallon.

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It is designed by Arquitectonica, the Miami-based firm that has been responsible for one of the worst buildings in the city, the Westin Times Square Hotel at 270 West 43rd Street, as well as one of the better buildings, the Bronx Museum of the Arts on Grand Concourse.

As of now, the renderings look dreary indeed, even accounting for the fact that the building’s goofiness is, as was the case with the Westin Times Square Hotel, very much the point.

The larger aesthetic ambition of anything this big is, of course, to avoid at all costs looking like some Soviet Block penitentiary, an association that the architects do not appear to have completely avoided. No bold or chaotic syncopation in the treatment of the window is likely to allay that impression, either, and the cladding in at least one of the renderings looks — in spite of everything — appallingly institutional.

What is it in the waters of Manhattan, one wonders, that causes Arquitectonica to design such a misshapen residential pile here, when their work in Miami, and around the world, is so much more inspired and proficient?