Directly south of Hell’s Kitchen in New York City, along the six-year-old High Line park, luxury residential buildings by some of the world’s most famous architects are popping up. To the neighborhood’s east, the soaring towers of Billionaires’ Row cast shadows over Central Park. But Hell’s Kitchen itself still seems an unlikely destination for high design—especially the site on West 57th Street where W57 is rising.
An apartment building framed by a Con Edison power plant, a Department of Sanitation garage, and the West Side Highway would seem doomed to gray mediocrity. And yet the pyramid taking shape here may be the most dynamic design to emerge from the construction boom reshaping much of Manhattan.
Actually, pyramid isn’t exactly the word for W57. Neither is tetrahedron, although that’s closer. Technically speaking, it is a hyperbolic paraboloid, according to Bjarke Ingels of the Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), the Danish architectural firm responsible for W57. Its parabolic pitch is key to how it solves so many problems at once.
The steep slope of the building (seen here in cross-section ) lends it the scale and vertiginous grandeur of a skyscraper. W57’s roof is “the height of a handrail” at its lowest point, Ingels says, while its tallest point is “the height of a high-rise.” The building’s northern and eastern faces have straight edges extending to its 450-foot-tall apex, while the southwest facade—which also serves as the roof—follows a parabolic dip . It’s as if someone had tugged on one of the faces of the pyramid from the inside, causing the surface to sag.
Ingels describes this third-facade-cum-roof as “the main experiment of the building.” Sliced into it horizontally, like perforations, are dozens of terraces, which provide the apartments inside with floor-to-ceiling windows. A courtyard cutaway—part of the roof is basically scooped out in order to catch sunlight and views —means lots of the residents in units on the east end of the building will face the same sunset over the Hudson River as their neighbors to the west. In a more traditional high-rise configuration, these eastern units wouldn’t have this view. But W57 essentially has no bad seats.
The cutaway also creates a central courtyard with still more views of the Hudson, a feature inspired by European perimeter blocks (city blocks in which an outer ring of housing surrounds a central open space ). This green oasis has the same proportions as Central Park—but “13,000 times smaller,” Ingels says.
As for views of the building, what it looks like will depend on where you stand. This is something of an Ingels signature: like BIG’s Amager Bakke facility in Copenhagen (a waste-to-energy plant that will double as a ski slope) and its Hualien residences in Taiwan (whose dramatically undulating green roofs are meant to echo the surrounding mountains), W57 looks different from various vantage points. From afar, certain facets of W57, including many of the apartments overlooking the courtyard, will appear almost textured, as the units seem to be stacked in a jagged offset pattern; meanwhile, the rest of the southwest facade/roof will be smooth.
Because the developer wanted the roof to be “completely indestructible,” Ingels told me, the architects chose bead-blasted stainless steel. Hoping to avoid a flaw of Frank Gehry’s Walt Disney Concert Hall, in Los Angeles—whose polished stainless-steel exterior gave off a glare that irritated its neighbors—BIG opted for a finish that’s more matte than mirrored. “When the sun sets over the Hudson River, it’s really going to illuminate this warped piece of metal with the color of the sky,” Ingels says. To drivers on the West Side Highway, the building will look like a luminous triangle.
The best view, however, will be off-limits to all but a handful of people. “Once this building is finished,” Ingels says, “probably the greatest theme-park ride in America is going to be the route as the window cleaner descends along the roof.”
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