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New York By Gehry, 8 Spruce Street

Between Nassau Street & William Street

Carter Horsley
Reviewed 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.
 

New York by Gehry, the 76-story mixed-use tower designed by Frank O. Gehry at 8 Spruce Street just south of Pace University near the Manhattan entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge, was a significant new element of the Lower Manhattan skyline when it was topped out in 2010.

The top 70 stories are clad in stainless steel. The south façade, facing towards the Financial District, is flat but the other three façades are rippled. The bottom six floors of the 876-foot-high tower are clad in orange brick and house a 600-seat public school on the lower five floors and office space for the New York Downtown Hospital on the sixth floor.

The building would have been an unquestioned architectural masterpiece if the south façade had continued the crinkling and if the base had continued the stainless-steel cladding. Even so, it is as majestic as its cross-town rival, the great neo-Gothic Woolworth Building designed by Cass Gilbert at 233 Broadway on the other side of City Hall Park.

When the buildings at Ground Zero are completed, this tower's tall prominence on the skyline will be superseded, but its visual complexity has already greatly eased the impact massive scarring of the skyline by One Chase Manhattan Plaza, which was designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill, by distracting the eye from the east and north.

In an interview with Peter Grant in the October 5, 2010 edition of The Wall Street Journal, Mr. Gehry explained that when he began thinking about the project he "walked the streets a lot and looked at what was built in the past."

"I was looking for what the essence of New York was. Step-backs are a distinguishing feature of New York skyscrapers. So I decided to work with that. I also saw a lot of modernist mistakes like putting glass at the corner of towers. It sort of weakens the form of the building. In the best buildings the corners are solid. There's a strength to that," he said, adding that he "wanted to do something that there aren't many of in New York, which is have apartments with bay windows."

"If you walk to a normal façade, you can push your nose against the window and you can see in either direction a little bit. If it's a bay window, you feel like you're walking into space. But if you have a bay window at the same place in the floor plan in every floor you get a vertical projection that's lined up all the way to the top, which would have been a harsh move. I wanted to soften that like a fabric," Mr. Gehry said.

"I've been fascinated with the studies of fabric by great artists through time - like Michelangelo, Leonardo....I probably rationalize this but there's probably a primate sense that when you're in your mother's arms as a baby: the folds in their clothes become very intimately associated with comfort and warmth. So those folds are functional," Mr. Gehry continued.

The tower, which is also known as 8 Spruce Street and 16-38 Beekman Street, has 903 market-rate apartments that are rent-stabilized for 20 years.

According to an architecture review by Nicolai Ouroussoff in the February 9, 2011 edition of The New York Times, the tower is "the finest skyscraper to rise in New York since Eero Saarinen s CBS building went up 46 years ago." "And like that tower, and Philip Johnson's AT&T (now Sony) building after it," the article continued, "8 Spruce Street seems to crystallize a particular moment in cultural history, in this case the turning point from the modern to the digital age."

"Residents will enter through a covered drive that cuts through the block along the building's western side. Framed by massive brick pillars and a glass-enclosed lobby, the space's generous proportions will accommodate taxis and limousines ferrying people in and out of the building, making it feel more like a luxury hotel than a classic Manhattan apartment building," Mr. Ouroussoff wrote.

"None of this matters much, however, once you see the tower in the skyline, a view that seems to lift Lower Manhattan out of its decade-long gloom. The building is particularly mesmerizing from the Brooklyn waterfront, where it's possible to make out one of the deep setbacks that give the building its reassuringly old-fashioned feel. In daylight the furrowed surfaces of the façades look as if they've been etched by rivulets of water, an effect that is all the more dramatic next to the clunky 1980s glass towers just to the south. Closer up, from City Hall Park, the same ripples look softer, like crumpled fabric. (The flat south façade is comparatively conventional, and some may find perverse enjoyment in the fact that the building presents its backside to Wall Street.)," the article continued.

The article noted that "the building's exterior is made up of 10,500 individual steel panels, almost all of them different shapes, so that as you move around it, its shape is constantly changing. And by using the same kind of computer modeling that he used for his Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain, more than a decade ago, he was able to achieve this quality at a close to negligible increase in cost."

"But," the article continued, "Mr. Gehry is also making a statement. The building's endlessly shifting surfaces are an attack against the kind of corporate standardization so evident in the buildings to the south and the conformity that it embodied. He aims, as he has throughout his career, to replace the anonymity of the assembly line with an architecture that can convey the infinite variety of urban life."

Mr. Gehry not only designed the building's exhilarating façade but all of the interiors and amenity spaces, curating all finishes and fixtures, and styling the building's 20 model apartments. The artist's hand is in evidence throughout Eight Spruce Street - from the striking sculptural concierge desk in the lobby to the screening room's free-form amphitheater-style seating in the amenity space, constructed in Gehry's signature honey-colored vertical grain Douglas Fir.

"I designed a building I would want to live in as a New Yorker," the architect has said, adding that "you could say this is my love letter to New York City."

The building has a concierge and valet services and health, social and entertainment amenities on 22,000 square feet of indoor and outdoor space. A 6th floor grilling terrace is outfitted with dining cabanas, picnic tables and cafe seating. The adjacent game room with billiard tables, gaming consoles and golf simulators is furnished with custom seating by Frank Gehry. On the 7th floor, a 50-foot sky-lit swimming pool is surrounded by fully-retracting glass doors, creating a seamless expanse of indoor and outdoor spaces that includes a wraparound sundeck.

Overlooking City Hall Park to the north, a large drawing room with a grand piano is adjacent to a private dining room which can be reserved for resident events and serviced from a chef's demonstration and catering kitchen.

A spa treatment suite and state-of-the-art fitness center with views of the Brooklyn Bridge are located on the 7th floor, with group fitness, Pilates and private training studios on the 8th floor. A tweens' den and a children's playroom are outfitted with games and toys to engage younger residents in the building.

There is also a library and golfers can arrange a workshop with a professional and the fitness center offers Golden Gloves boxing instruction.

There will also be 1,300 square feet of neighborhood-oriented ground-floor retail space and 26,000 square feet of below-grade parking for 175 cars for hospital use.

The development also has two public plazas totaling 15,000-square-feet, designed by Field Operations, the creative force behind Manhattan's High Line, in collaboration with Dutch horticulturist Piet Oudolf, who collaborated with Gehry on Chicago's Millennium Park.

Mr. Gehry won the 1989 Pritzker Prize. He is most famous for his design of the Guggenheim Museum Bilbao (Spain) that was completed in 1997, the Walt Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles that was completed in 2003 and the IAC headquarters building in Chelsea that was completed in 2007. His design for a major branch of the Solomon Guggenheim Museum along the East River south of the South Street Seaport was not realized.

Forest City Ratner Companies, a wholly owned subsidiary of Forest City Enterprises, owns and operates 31 properties in the New York metropolitan area including Downtown Brooklyn's transformative MetroTech Center and the acclaimed Renzo Piano-designed New York Times Building in Manhattan.

In a March 30, 2011 article at architectural-review.com, Mark Lamster observed that "the purpose of the exterior pleating, according to the architect, is to give the building some 200 unique apartment layouts, and to allow for projecting bay windows that enhance the tower's exceptional views."

"The apartments are indeed commodious - the Gehry office has even designed integral hardware but the effect of the bays is mitigated somewhat by the fact that the orthogonal windows are inset and not flush with metal exterior panels, as was originally intended. Manufacturing so many panes of curved glass was apparently too expensive for Forest City Ratner."

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