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The Porter House, 66 Ninth Avenue

Between West 14th Street & West 15th Street

90
Carter Horsley
Review by Carter Horsley
Carter Horsley Carter B. Horsley, a former journalist for The New York Times, The International Herald Tribune and The New York Post. Mr. Horsley is also the editorial director of CityRealty.com.
 

One of the boldest residential designs in the city is The Porter House, a conversion and expansion of an industrial building to condominium apartments at 366 West 15th Street on the southeast corner at Ninth Avenue.

Although the 22-unit, 10-story project is relatively small, it is a very significant and important development for it not only pays scant respect to the once-popular, Post-Modern trend of trying to be traditional and "contextual," but it also, and more importantly, breaks new ground in its very unusual façade lighting.

This location is in the heart of West Chelsea and the Meat Packing District and also very close to the Far West Village. There is good public transportation in the area and the Hudson River is nearby as are many art galleries and restaurants.

The building, which is also known as 66 Ninth Avenue, was designed by Gregg Pasquarelli of ShoP/Sharples Holden Pasquarelli.

Jeffrey M. Brown is the developer.

The building takes it name from the "porterhouse" cut of steak since it is near the meatpacking district and next to a famous steakhouse. The name of the cut of steak reportedly came from "porter" houses that were coach stops that served meat and ale.

Bottom Line

This modest-size but most intriguing project is one of the star attractions at the epicenter of West Chelsea as its rooftop “addition” sports many randomly placed vertical lights. With only 22 units, this very distinctive, 10-story building has spacious apartments and a great location. It is catty-corner to the fabulous Chelsea Market, and also to an Apple store, and one block south of the Maritime Hotel and the Dream Hotel, and two blocks north of the Gansevoort Hotel whose tall entrance columns pulsate, slowly, in different colors.

Description

The 6-story base of the building is a yellow-brick warehouse building that was erected in 1905 for Jules Wile, the wine importer.  It has arched windows on its top two floors and an angled pediment roofline on Ninth Avenue.

The four-story, cantilevered top of the building was added in 2003 and is setback from the base on Ninth Avenue and 15th Street.  It has zinc façades punctuated by vertical light strips randomly spaced about its windows. Each floor of the rooftop addition has a small, angled balcony at the southeast corner of the building. The zinc-clad addition actually extends two-stories down the south façade.

It is across 15th Street from the mammoth, full-block, Art Deco-style industrial building that was originally built by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey at 115 Ninth Avenue.

It is just to the north of the low-rise and sprightly Old Homestead Steakhouse.

It is diagonally across Tenth Avenue from the fabulous Chelsea Market, a gourmet's oasis that occupies the base of another gigantic red-brick structure that extends to Tenth Avenue and the High Line Elevated Park.

It is one block south of the very popular Maritime and Dream hotels, both of which have porthole-style windows, and two blocks north of the very popular Gansevoort Hotel with its illuminated entrance columns and roof-top bar, pool and lounges.

The developer of the project took the general size and form of the existing building and duplicated it above the existing building but shifted the new mass a bit to the east and south.

The "shifting" has resulted in the south façade being cantilevered about 8 feet over the adjoining building.

This shift in and of itself is interesting and good.  While it is simple in theory, it is very effective in stirring the imagination. 

Has the building slipped?  What happened?  Why?

Furthermore, the "top" box is covered with a dark zinc façade that is decidedly different from the yellow-brick base.

Has the "past" of the yellow brick base given birth to a "futuristic" baby?  The contrast is dramatic, especially since the fenestration patterns are completely different.

It is at night, however, that the differences became electrifying, literally.

The "top" box has vertical lighting elements of varying widths and most of which are as large as some of its windows and because they loom over the low-rise buildings of the Old Homestead restaurant, which dates to 1868, they become very visible beacons.

The lighting elements and the windows almost read as many lines of barcode. 

Are the lights in the apartments? Does that mean someone is at home? To keep things simple, the lights do not flash on and off, which would add to the confusion.  But why not?  Why not have a dynamic nightscape that transforms itself virtually? To its great credit, this building raises such intriguing questions.

Although it is small, this building arrogantly flaunts its “stuff” with supreme and subtle cool reminiscent of Shin Takematsu’s spectacular Kirin Plaza in Tokyo, one of the world’s greatest modern urban beacons. 

One expects this building to light up the sky like a slot machine “exploding” when someone hits the jackpot.  Takematsu’s “lighthouse,” of course, boldly celebrates the high of brightness while this building discretely, almost daintily, splinters its lights into many thin vertical strips. 

Although its light show is static, not dynamic, it inspires flights of fancy as it is randomly placed and are easily mistaken for film noir windows.

One anticipates, or conjures, its awakening out-of-control in a “close encounter.”

Goodness gracious!  What is going on?  It appears off-kilter and on closer examination the edges of its very broad shed canopies at ground-level are illuminated.

In recent years, New York City has witnessed a spurt in the number of buildings with illuminated crowns, a most welcome trend. Dallas has long had illuminated geometric patterns on many of its downtown office towers. Certainly, the renaissance of Times Square should inspire more urban lighting environments. One thinks of the quintessential film noir scenes of people in hotel rooms mesmerized/stultified by flashing neon signs outside their windows.

With the technology available today some hypnotic signs need not stultify. On the other hand, of course, one can imagine an excess of invasive lighting that is distracting, or jarring, or blinding, or just plain annoying. In any event, it does make one think afresh about the urban environment.

What we have here is a lightmark!

Amenities

The Porter House has a part-time doorman, a roof deck, a bicycle room, a fitness center and individual storage. The building also has an elevator and a video intercom system.

Apartments

There are 13 two-bedroom apartments, 3 three-bedroom units and a four-bedroom duplex with a private roof deck.

A 2003 article by Josh Barbanel in The New York Times about the project said that “the old is celebrated with the meticulous resawing of hundred-year-old yellow pine beams for use as windowsills, the new marked by brushed-chrome appliances and Italian cabinets.”

Apartments have washers and dryers and 4-inch-wide Jatoba hardwood flooring.

Kitchens have Viking appliances, and Feretti high-gloss cabinetry.

One enters one of the two-bedroom apartments into a very large, almost square living/dining room with a dogleg, 15-foot-long kitchen.

A larger two-bedroom unit has a 30-foot-long living/dining room with a open kitchen and a balcony and a 12-foot-long “study.”

A three-bedroom apartment has a foyer that opens onto a 29-foot-long living/dining room with an open kitchen and a balcony.

History

New York City’s emergence from the brackish design waters of blandness in which it had wallowed to the contentment of many community activists began early this millennium with several projects that would never have passed local muster just a few years before.

The base of the building is a yellow-brick Renaissance Revival warehouse structure that was originally erected in 1905 for Julius Wile, the wine importers. In later years, it was occupied by a furniture manufacturer.

According to The Times article, Mr. Pasquarelli's firm made sure the Porter House project would be built, however, by recruiting a developer, Jeffrey M. Brown, to put together the deal, and joining it as minority partners. The developers bought the air-rights from two adjacent properties on Ninth Avenue to enlarge the project.

Other projects of SHoP Architects, as the firm is now known, include the Mulberry House at 290 Mulberry Street, M127 on Madison Avenue, the Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn and the redevelopment of the South Street Seaport.

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