Generic glass towers — ahem, Hudson Yards; cough cough, Long Island City — continue to rise around the city. At the same time, in a less-documented shift, architects are increasingly drawing on forms, materials and techniques from the past to design new residential buildings that are weightier and livelier. Their modern projects sport brick arches, textured ornaments and other hallmarks of architecture’s historic eras.
Designers say they aren’t copying the past — or reshaping it into a gaudy pastiche — but combining the best of new and old to create something uniquely modern.
For Parlour, a 12-story condominium in Park Slope, INC Architecture & Design principal Adam Rolston and his colleagues wandered the neighborhood looking for muses. They noticed brick brownstones, limestone townhouses and even the metal-girded undersides of historic bridges.
As a result, the building includes a smooth facade of limestone bricks, a grid of arched windows framed in brick and a backlit, herringbone-patterned steel screen that covers the building’s arch-filled base.
“We try to take [the past] apart,” says Rolston, whose firm embraces a “context is king” philosophy. “Break it down to its most reduced elements, and then use it as a kit of parts and build up a design that’s filtered through modern living.”
Parlour has 19 units from $2.39 million for a three-bedroom. Inside, the building’s upper apartments open to the elements via rows of uncovered loggia — a k a outdoor rooms — inspired, again, by local historical precedents. Yet with all these nods to the past, they are still modern, with extra-large windows — the arches allow them to bring in even more light — and contemporary kitchens and bathrooms.
New York architects don’t always draw their historical inspiration from the city itself. In designing Luna, a 39-unit condo building in Gowanus, architect Luca Andrisani drew on his years studying in Rome, where he was surrounded by heavy buildings and, of course, endless arches.
“When you are a creative person, you pour the images you’ve accumulated in your mind into your work,” says Andrisani. who credits his time away from Rome in helping him warm to the concept that history can be modified and molded, not just treated as sacrosanct.
Luna’s facade contains 18 different arches of varying lengths and heights, creating an intricate frontage that pulls your eye in every direction, and presages the variety of the units inside (from $565,000). The firm had to hire special bricklayers and order pricier-than-normal bricks.
High-quality materials, so often inspired by the past, also increase a building’s worth, adds SHoP principal Gregg Pasquarelli, as well as its ability to weather rain, sun and grime.
Still under construction, his firm’s 86-story, 1,428-foot-tall 111 W. 57th St. is slender but still feels more substantial than its toothpick-ish glass neighbors on Billionaires’ Row. In a process that marries old materials and new methodologies, it is getting clad in filigreed bronze and terra cotta that is computer-designed and cut, cast in dozens of shapes and colors, and rotated in all directions along the building’s length.
In fact, the tower’s entire form combines the historic and the futuristic, responding to New York’s setback regulations (which ensure ample light reaches the sidewalk) with a “feathered” exterior that merges the stepped depth of “wedding cake” skyscrapers like the Empire State Building with today’s more subtly tapered facades.
The intricate details, adds Pasquarelli, set the skyscraper apart from its luxury competitors (you would hope so, since its 65 units range from $18 million to $57 million).
Some architects even combine multiple historic inspirations in one building. ODA founder Eran Chen pulled from three time periods in Long Island City’s built history to dream up the seemingly disparate sections of condo Galerie. Solid grids of steel and glass were driven by the area’s turn-of-the-century warehouses; punch windows are a reflection of the area’s prewar brick apartments; curtain walls recall contemporary waterfront towers.
“The references help anchor the architecture in deeper ground,” says Chen. “If architecture could start telling a story, and the story is the story of a place, then potentially that becomes contextual.” (Galerie has 182 units starting at $575,000.)
One of the city’s busiest residential architects, Morris Adjmi, should perhaps be anointed the king of improvising with history. His projects include 134 Wooster St., a new-build that riffs on Soho’s cast-iron architecture with a stepped glass curtain wall behind a screen of stacked white steel arches. The arches increase in number as they climb the building, echoing the classical order of base, shaft and capital. Inside, the grainy surface of board-formed concrete alludes to the wood walls often found inside such spaces. (Pricing is not yet available.)
Adjmi has executed similarly innovative experiments using concrete (83 Walker St.), glass (16 W. 21st St.), terra cotta (7 W. 21st St.), and zinc and mahogany (254 Front St.); he is even playing with Park Avenue South’s neo-Gothic patterns through the gridded and lacy stone and metal lines of 39-story residential tower, 30 E. 31st St. (42 units starting at $1.57 million.)
“Creating a dialogue with the surroundings is very comforting for me,” says Adjmi, who began his career working for Italian architect Aldo Rossi, one of the masters of looking at the past to create something new. “That dialogue is really what the urban fabric is.”
Of course, like any emerging phenomenon in this field, true acceptance requires the embrace of a true starchitect. Enter British architect Sir David Adjaye, whose 66-story 130 William St. draws on Lower Manhattan’s architectural gems like the Woolworth Building, City Hall, the Municipal Building and the Park Row building.
130 William has large arched windows (created from hand-cut forms), highly textured black concrete facade (hand-troweled and aggregated with marble and granite), and its upper-level loggia (whose arches are turned upside-down to help differentiate the building’s pediment from its shaft).
The interiors feel contemporary, but use tactile, hand-wrought materials that are rare in a building culture that so often relies on artificial, mass-produced ones: walnut doors, bronze trims and fixtures, rare Italian marble counters, basalt stone and bleached oak floors, matte and corrugated stone and timber walls. Its 244 units start at $1.28 million.
Adjaye and his team, like Rolston and co. in Park Slope, spent time walking around the neighborhood, soaking up inspiration for the building.