September 27, 2017

This City Runs on Real Estate

After decades of dedicating the September issue to New York, Interior Design is for the first time devoting a whole section to real estate. Sure, the city has long possessed beaux arts grandes dames and pioneering modernist towers. But for many years, while the Middle and Far East were building like crazy, it was quieter on the Big Apple front. Many of the best architects were busy far away from home. Not so today.

If one thing has become crystal-clear during the current boom, developers have come around to the value of good design. Observers point to Interior Design Hall of Fame member Richard Meier’s twin Greenwich Village apartment towers, completed in 2002, as a turning point. Until then, while Meier had designed museums from Los Angeles to Barcelona, Spain, not to mention government and commercial buildings in California and the Czech Republic, he’d never completed a ground-up structure in his hometown. So everyone in the real-estate world sat up and took notice. Developers are now turning to top local firms as well as superstars from abroad for buildings that are making singular contributions to the skyline.

520 West 28th Street, Chelsea, Zaha Hadid Architects. Photography by Hayes Davidson.

Just consider SHoP Architects’s American Cooper Buildings, two copper-clad towers by the East River in Midtown that lean toward each other as if engaged in a tango. A connecting sky-bridge looks like an arm flung around a dance partner—kick it, baby. It’s not all about good looks, either. Sustainability has become the watchword for projects large and small. Of course, some firms have been attuned to these issues all along. But today, with LEED fully entrenched and evidence of green design’s health benefits mounting, a certification program called WELL hopes to do for interiors what LEED has done for architecture.

Although many of the maneuvers that LEED and WELL require remain hidden to the buyer or renter’s eye, plants are very much in evidence. Terraces and rooftops have come alive with landscaped lounges, lovely to look at and linger on. Interiors are just as imaginative, as designers experiment with materials and showcase original art. In apartment buildings, lobbies are being reinvented as community hubs, and coworking areas are cropping up for the benefit of the freelance workforce. Amenities are ever more plentiful: billiard rooms, wine cellars, hammams… or all of the above.

Designers new to the development game seem to enjoy the change of pace. Brian Messana and Toby O’Rorke sat in on meetings for the Upper East Side building that Messana O’Rorke is helping convert from a rental to a condominium—and discovered a talent for marketing and branding. “Before this, we’d always done very personal, one-on-one residential projects, never multi-family residential,” Messana says. “But see? We’re already talking like developers.” And no marketing executive could have done a better job than the namesake principal of Andre Kikoski Architect, which is designing the interiors of Davis Brody Bond’s apartment building 1 Hudson Yards on the edge of Midtown. Leading a tour that began in the lobby, he pointed out wall panels made by pouring molten bronze over linen.

Then there’s always the possibility of impressing the family. Meyer Davis Studio’s Will Meyer was recently watching the U.S. Open on television with his children when a real-estate commercial flashed onto the screen. His kids turned to him and asked, “Dad, isn’t that the building you’re working on?”

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