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Monday, April 30, 2018

Via 57 West

New York City's Via 57 West (center)--distinction amid monotony.
Vitruvian Man, Leonardo
This past spring as my wife and I gazed down from the observation level of New York's Freedom Tower at some two-hundred years of American architectural history spread at our feet, I was intrigued by a brand new, highly unique structure unlike any I'd ever seen before (bottom). The most common three-dimensional shape used in mankind's endless attempts to shelter himself is that of the cube. That is, of course, due to the fact that, while people are not cube-shaped, their range of motion, as Leonardo demonstrated with his Vitruvian Man etching, is best likened to a cube in conjunction with a sphere. The sphere not being a very practical nor stable geometric shape, architecture down through the eons has tended to default to the cube.
Via 57 West is situated on prime real estate, in the city's trendy Chelsey District, mid-town Manhattan, with a view looking out over the Hudson River.
From overhead, Via 57 West
takes on a presence never
before seen in American
If the sphere is inherently unstable, the pyramid has, down through the ages, proven to be the most structurally sound shape to be found (just ask the Egyptians). The problem with the use of triangular shapes in domestic architecture is that the inhabitants keep bumping their heads into the obligatory sloped ceilings within. When con-fronted with these advantages and limitations, architects of the Danish-American firm, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) sought to combine the best features of both shapes. What do you do when asked to design a distinctively unique skyscraper amid the jagged teeth of hundreds of other similar structures marking the New York skyline? The firm's architects studied the scene not from the site between 57th and 58th Streets in Manhattan but from across the Hudson River in New Jersey. What they saw, among all the cubes, was a notable lack of imagination and specifically the absence of pyramidal shapes. Could they overcome the inherent difficulties of the pyramid, replacing vertical lines with diagonal ones? Look below; they could and would.

No one single photo can capture all the shapes and details of a structure on the scale of Via 57 West. The building changes shapes depending upon the viewpoint.
Technically, Via 57 West is not a true pyramid. A true pyramid demands a square base. However, the NYC street grid consists of blocks on a 1:4 or (at best) a 1:3 ratio of the sides. Thus the designers were forced to slice off a corner mass amounting to about one-sixth of a pyramid as their basic shape. Then, in order to accommodate a sunlit courtyard, they carved out another wedge starting on the fourth floor up through to near the tip on the 32nd floor, providing not just sunlight to grow some 43 trees in their mini-park but also providing a stunning view of the Hudson River and its Jersey shore.

With the sun from the south and the view to the west, the second "slice" from the pyramid not only made environmental sense, but also provided a highly distinctive shape.
Needless to say, the diagonal dictates of the exterior of the building created tremendous problems in planning the interior. The area overlooking the courtyard is basically an elongated "U" with the top opening facing the river (below). In order to maximize balcony views the apartments were laid out in a 45-degree herringbone pattern while being of a size to accommodate the highly competitive, high-end, New York real estate market. The result, however, made for some rather strange-shaped floorplans, particularly as seen in the studio and one bedroom apartments.

The pyramidal shape of the building demands that the floors towards the top become smaller and smaller near the point.
So, what's it like to live in a pyramid (or at least part of one)? Surprisingly the apartments look very much like what you'd find in any urban high-rise. There are no sloped ceilings to bump ones head into and, for the most part, the rooms are the same basic cube-shape we've become accustomed to down through the centuries. It's only when you step out onto a sometimes tiny balcony that you discover the diagonals and come to realize why you're paying $2,900 for a modest one-bedroom apartment (or studio). From that price, rentals zip upwards to $9,000 per month for a roomy three-bedroom plan (below).

Quite apart from the exorbitant rent, cutting corners takes on added meaning when you live in a pyramidal apartment complex.
The apartments inside Via 57 West are, by design, bland, allowing the occupants to impose their own personalities and lifestyles (or pay a designer to do so). The model apartments, shown to would-be renters, are designed in what the developers term a "Scandimerican" style (Danish-modern with an American flavor). The iconic luxury apartments at 625 West 57th Street feature floor-to-ceiling windows with captivating views of the Manhattan skyline and the Hudson River. Stylish Italian cabinetry, stone countertops, and Energy-Star appliances add culinary artistry and utility. Master bathrooms offer similar countertops and cabinetry, along with white-tile floors and walls. Many rentals have balconies and terraces that seamlessly blend outdoor and indoor space.

White and neutral colors predominate in the Scandimerican d├ęcor at least until the rental clients move in.
Via 57 West also provides state-of-the-art amenities for its residents, including a 22,000 square-foot courtyard professionally landscaped and brimming with dozens of native plants, as well as barbecue grills. A top-notch gym offers a swimming pool, dedicated studios, and an indoor basketball half-court. Even more, the residents lounges, reading rooms, screening room, game room, and event room offer plenty of exclusive recreation space. Located on the far west side, at 625 West 57th Street, the location is just a few blocks from the world-renowned Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, as well as a dozens of fine-dining restaurants and shops.

The Via 57 West pool is on the third level overlooking the Hudson.
Via 57 West is not massive insofar as New York architecture goes. It does occupy most of a full city block, but rises "only" thirty-two stories in competing for instant recognition with the likes of the Freedom Tower or the Empire State Building. For a building of such unique design, the public spaces inside on the lower floors are distinctively underwhelming (below). The Via 57 West is a hybrid between the European perimeter block and the traditional American high-rise. The building peaks at 450 feet at its north-east corner, thereby maximizing the number of apartments and graciously preserving the adjacent Helena Tower’s views of the river. The building's volume changes depending on the viewer’s vantage point. From the west, it is a hyperbolic paraboloid (warped pyramid). From the east, the "courtscraper" appears to be a slender spire.

The diagonal meets the cube.
In recent decades, some of the most interesting urban developments have come in the form of nature and public space, as designers reinsert them into antiquated post-industrial pockets. Examples include the pedestrianization of Broadway and Times Square; widespread bicycle lanes, the High Line Park, and industrial piers turned into parks. Via 57 West continues this process of greenification allowing open space to invade the urban fabric of the Manhattan city grid. In an unlikely fusion of what would seem to be two mutually exclusive forms--the courtyard and the skyscraper--the "courtscraper" is the most recent addition to the Manhattan skyline.

Views from the balconies of Via 57 West are just as impressive as those from the West Side Highway.
Via 57 West as seen from the Freedom Tower.


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