Apartments outside the Box
Unlike these brick boxes, which offer no mystery or enchantment, Meier's towers demonstrate how architectural expertise can provide value to clients and to the community that the buildings enliven.
The idea of the innovative towers originated with three visionary developers who wanted to build a signature building. They approached Meier who, having never built from the ground up in New York City, welcomed the opportunity.
Developers Ira Drucker, Charles Blaichman, and Richard Born wanted a design by a recognized architect to be a key selling point to prospective tenants. Their instinct proved correct, and most of the units in the two towers were sold before construction began.
Then, the infamous events of September 11, 2001 interrupted construction. After a brief respite, the decision to complete the two towers was made to acknowledge the importance of recognizable buildings in a city skyline and as a tribute to the former World Trade Center towers.
Meier's north tower is 33,000 square feet (3070 square meters) and the south tower is twice that size. Each tower's core is square in plan, but the glass elevation that faces the Hudson River angles off from the base.
Each facade is a composition of exposed aluminum bands painted Meier's trademark white, with Caribbean blue high-performance glass and natural concrete. There has been careful detailing in the connections of glass to steel, steel to concrete, and concrete to the ground.
You are drawn to the facade, searching for its meaning and trying to understand how it would be to live in these gleaming towers. The arrangement of glass and steel announces that the main living spaces have a spectacular view, but it doesn't tell the entire story at one glance.
Instead, Meier's towers fuel the imagination. The facades suggest that the apartment floor and unit arrangements may be double-height spaces, duplexes, or regular floors carefully hidden behind the cool glass facade. (Like most condominium units in New York, the interiors are still vacant spaces and will be designed by other architects of the buyer's choosing.)
The curtain wall system was preassembled then pieced together on site. Architectural concrete was used on all floors and core walls. Cooling towers on each roof link to one package unit per floor which regulates up to three zones.
Project architect Carlos Tan cites an interesting foundation note. Even though the two buildings are adjacent, there is a dramatic difference in the soils composition below them. While a 3-foot- (91-centimeter-) thick mat slab was designed to support the larger south tower, the softer soil under the north tower required piles to be driven 80 feet (24 meters) down to bedrock. This foundation difference didn't affect the above-grade design and only slightly increased the cost and construction schedule.
Setting a Trend?
Across town other notable architects, such as Cesar Pelli and Michael Graves, also have residential towers underway. While theirs are not exactly brick boxes, I believe they fail to take advantage of their creators' standing to push for higher design standards.
Will there be a day when we can choose to live in a building designed by an architect we know and admire, just as we can now choose cars and clothes for their design quality? I believe that if the public begins to demand such quality in architecture, developers will learn that good design can bring about tenant satisfaction and community enhancement, as well as financial reward.
Architects and the public in general support attractive, environmentally correct, and spatially interesting buildings. Meier's Perry Street Towers stand as an example of capitalizing on an opportunity to make a change for the better and offer the public a new aesthetic education.
Peter Gaito Jr. is an architect who works with his father's firm, Peter F. Gaito and Associates, in White Plains, New York. He has been published in Architectural Record, Oculus, and Crain's NY.