Mark Lamster | Essays

Shigeru Ban in New York


In a few short years, Nineteenth Street between Tenth and Eleventh avenues has become a block-long showroom for contemporary architecture in New York. The western end has its starchitectural Scylla and Charybdis in Frank Gehry's IAC building and Jean Nouvel's mosaic-windowed condo tower, 100 Eleventh. At the east end is DS+R's reconfigured High-Line, and now in mid-block, between the Gehry and a crisp modern block by Anabelle Selldorf, is Shigeru Ban's recently completed Shutter House condo.  

Neil Denari's nearby HL23 has commanded a lot more ink than Ban's building—it hangs out over the High Line on Twenty-Third, begging for attention, and its protracted tale of construction, combined with Denari's slim portfolio and big LA reputation, have generated heat. Ban's building is better. Unlike HL23, which is merely a stack of floor plates, the Shutter Houses were conceived in section, each apartment being a complex set of duplex spaces running from front to rear. The building gets its name from the rolling metal shutters on its front facade, inspired by the industrial pull-down security gates familiar in the area, which shield ample terraces from the elements and prying eyes. Behind those screens, double-height windows create remarkably airy spaces with views looking across what's left of industrial Chelsea and out toward midtown. 

I am admittedly not the world's number one fan of Japanese minimalist chic, and some of Ban's decisions here I found perplexing. The lobby—and this is a problem with many upscale modern condos—is utterly sterile and banal, and no place for a guest to wait. The cantilevered balconies at the rear of the building are actually set on a slight angle, for drainage, and the result is that they feel flimsy and vertiginous, as do some of the interior spaces. Most creepy are master bathrooms with floor-to-ceiling windows that afford those working at the extremely proximate IAC with a show.

The view from the bathroom. 

It is, generally, hard for me to get excited about another new condo for the exorbitantly wealthy. Ban, however, is famously a good citizen, and this project hardly seems like a work of cynical profiteering or formalistic toying about. It would be nice if more buildings in this city, and not at just the very high-end, reflected so much creativity in the construction of spaces and in their reckoning with their urban heritage. 

Comments [3]

why bother?
Perry Richardson

One of the thing that I enjoy about DO is that it generally eschews professional parochialism. Which is why statements like "DS+R's High-line" stand out and inflame. I know it doesn't fit with your lede of a "showroom for contemporary architecture" but the Highline's lead consultant is, of course, the landscape architect Jim Corner. Undoubtedly you know that, so why the architectural parochialism? Perhaps "a showroom for contemporary urbanism" and highlighting Corner's softer, but just as essential, contribution to the modern city would be more appropriate.
Brice Maryman

In one of his more candid moments, Rem Koolhaas admitted that even OMA's buildings make a ridiculous ensemble when you put them all together. I haven't made to this block yet, but I have seen the Nouvel and Gehry buildings, which are 10% as good at placemaking as the average New York spec building 100 years ago.

Most New Yorkers live in small apartments and use the public realm ("the space between the buildings," as Jan Gehl calls it). In fact, we pay a lot for our small apartments because we value our public realm. We need less object-making and more place-making.
john massengale

Jobs | May 22