King of the hill

by TERESA CHOW on Jun 17, 2011 in Architecture
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At the age of 82, Pritzker Prize-winning architect Frank Gehry has just completed his fifth New York skyscraper in true, inimitable style

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Most people would have long been retired at his age, but Frank Gehry is cut from a different cloth altogether – how do you switch off talent, anyway? And it is that he has just realised his first high-rise, residential mixed-use commission in New York City, dubbed ‘New York by Gehry’. It is the tallest residential tower in the western hemisphere, and the first ever designed by Gehry.

What’s got the world abuzz, however, is the building’s totally unlikely, almost incomprehensible appearance. Clad in glass and stainless steel, the façade shimmers and literally ripples like fabric draped over the structure. “This is a building that could only be built in New York,” says Gehry. 

Gehry is known, of course, for his quirky, cutting-edge designs, all of which begin life as little more than squiggles scrawled on pieces of paper. New York has welcomed Gehry’s genius with open arms, and an open mind. Thus has the Manhattan skyline been redefined by the architect’s distinctive vision at New York by Gehry, with its flowing lines and organic shapes creating an elegant architectural silhouette. 

Located at Eight Spruce Street and sat just north of Manhattan’s financial district overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge, the 76-storey, 87ft-tall New York by Gehry comprises 903 rental apartments, plus a 100,000 sq-ft public school on the first through the fifth floors, the first ever built in New York city on private land, as well as doctors’ offices for physicians associated with New York Downtown Hospital.

The building, sheathed in a stainless steel curtain-wall with glass panels, has the unmistakably undulating, asymmetrical look of a Frank Gehry building. His innovative approach to incorporating free-form bay windows – over 200 in all – result in the building’s dynamic silhouette and panoramic views from its residences. Its folds, reminiscent of shiny, draped fabric, were inspired by the work of 17th century Italian sculptor Gianlorenzo Bernini.

Gehry has made a point to distinguish these dramatic “Bernini folds” from the softer look of Michelangelo’s sculptural draping. This complex surface geometry of the building’s curtain wall was mapped by a computer software platform developed by Gehry Technologies called Digital Project.

“This building pays homage to New York City,” says Gehry. “I wanted to create something with humanity to it, in the tradition of other NYC buildings, celebrating both the vibrancy of life here and the quiet moments of contemplation within it. For me, the design has always been focused on creating a high quality of life for the people who will be living inside the building. The bay windows give all of the units wonderful light and the feeling of ‘stepping into space’ – of being embraced by New York energy and vitality.”