Irish Arts Center will liven up dull block: Architecture review

Rendering reveals modernist touches, 19th century charm in Far West Side building

Rendering of the new Irish Arts Center
Rendering of the new Irish Arts Center

In about two years time, a dreary stretch of Manhattan’s Far West Side, from 51st to 52nd Street on 11th Avenue, will be greatly improved by the arrival of a new Irish Arts Center.

At the moment, the site — roughly the width of two row houses — is home to a two-story auto repair shop painted garish red at street-level and pallid yellow above and enlivened by mismatched panels for Firestone and Michelin tires. Oddly enough, the building stock on either side of the structure is quite attractive. A sequence of well-preserved row houses — made of bright red brick and boasting a fairly uniform cornice — sit to the right of the site. The space on the left is occupied by a taller, five story building that also dates back to the late 1800s.

The Irish Arts Center has existed in this neighborhood since 1972, but it has long since outgrown its narrow spaces. The new premises, designed by Ciaran O’Connor of Ireland’s Office of Public Works, will increase the space sevenfold to a total of 35,000 square feet.

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The new center looks from the renderings to be a demurely elegant building, seven stories tall, whose red-brick façade will fit very well into the context of 11th Avenue and 51st Street. The building’s façade will consist of a modernist marquee at street level, while five expansive mullioned windows on the 2nd floor will add a charming 19th Century touch. Above these will be simple and taller windows, with two or three clear panes.

Above the fourth floor — which, due to the project’s double height spaces, is really the equivalent of a fifth or sixth floor — There Will Be A Terrace and two setbacks conceived in a more modern idiom of glass and steel. The setback areas are defined by pale gray visual accents, made of what looks to be lime-stone or granite. These in turn pick up the vocabulary of the entrance way.

The new center will provide space for an auditorium, dance studio, classrooms and a café. Perhaps what is most striking about the whole project is the way in which, given the quality of the buildings on either side, this one intervention will improve the entire block, and perhaps even beyond.