Back in 2006, we were treated to images of Herzog & de Meuron's 56 Leonard Street in New York, a proposed 57-story residential in the Tribeca area, designed to house 145 residences, each one with its own unique floor plan and private outdoor space. The marketing blurb described the $3.5 million to $33million apartments as “houses stacked in the sky.” Then the GFC hit, and we heard no more.
But now, 56 Leonard Street is definitely under construction, the site bought by that perennially cashed up Australian construction giant, Lend Lease. Predictably, progress is taking some time. Lower levels are typically the most complicated, but 56 Leonard has significant variations between each floor, complicating the structure and sure to lengthen the construction process. Completion is currently slated for 2015.
Philosophically, I am genuinely pleased to see such a building being realized. A capacity to accommodate variation and identity was there in Corbusier's project for Algiers, surfaced often after and was given theoretical backbone by Habraaken's Supports. But those approaches envisaged the variation within a bounded structure. And they never really happened, except as squatter settlements in abandoned shells, such as the “Tower of David,” a 45-story uncompleted skyscraper, and the Confinanza Tower, both in downtown Caracas, Venezuela.
That is where I find myself surprisingly ambivalent. Feeling comfortable with the horizontality of Corbusier's vision, and the modest heights of Habraaken's Dutch models, I am actually quite viscerally uncomfortable about the dissolution of the high-rise form. Mind you, the night rendering shows an exceptional, scintillating vision that is easy to be thrilled about. In my terms, I guess light fills out the missing voids, and adds an illusion of bulk, even while the whole sparkles.
Finally, I find the only test I can think of is to mentally multiply Herzog & de Meuron's tower and compare it with a vision of many singular forms. The former ends up a texture, a grain almost of organically adjusted adjacencies, a 3D textured background against which a few landmark buildings would stand out. The latter will inevitably be a cacaphony of competing 'me, me, me' object buildings. I prefer the prospect of the former. Pity it's unlikely to happen.
Keep up with construction updates from NY on New York YIMBY.
For lots of images, and to register to buy, go to the project web site here.