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Features

121 East 22nd Street, OMA, Rem Koolhaas, Gramercy condo 121 East 22nd Street. Credit: Laurian Ghinitoiu
Earlier this month, Toll Brothers’ 121 East 22nd Street officially opened its doors to the residents of its 134 condominiums. The L-shaped structure greets the corner of Lexington Avenue and East 23rd Street with an 18-story high-rise and a smaller, 13-story mid-block structure facing East 22nd Street. The bespoke building, designed by OMA New York, with chisels cut at the corner of a demure grid, manifests into reality one of the pivotal architectural treatises of our generation, penned by Rem Koolhaaas, the firm’s lead partner. Ahead, see new photos of the recently completed Gramercy project.
121 East 22nd Street, OMA, Rem Koolhaas, Gramercy condo Credit: Laurian Ghinitoiu
In 1978, when the Big Apple faced some of its roughest years and the architectural profession struggled with an identity crisis, Koolhaas publisehd Delirious New York. The so-called “retroactive manifesto” codifies the island’s elusive condition, which exerts a mighty magnetic pull across the globe, as “Manhattanism.” A uniform street grid, a historically persistent drive for innovation and reinvention, and the resultant congestion form a “theater of progress” in the “mythical island where the invention and testing of a metropolitan lifestyle and its attendant architecture could be pursued as a collective experiment where the entire city became a factory of man-made experience.”
Credit: Laurian Ghinitoiu
But even as Koolhaas celebrates the fantastical playground, where the fruits of the wildest imaginations ripen into reality, the theorist acknowledges practical restrictions, where “each architectural ideology has to be realized fully within the limitations of the block.” Such limitations have prevented OMA from producing any buildings in New York in the subsequent decades, even as the products of the firm’s imagination blossomed across the globe, new office branches spread from Rotterdam to Beijing, Hong Kong and New York, and Koolhaas garnered a Pritzker Prize, among other accolades.

 

Time after time, OMA proposed flights of architectural fantasy that respond to the Manifesto’s allusion to “the grid’s two-dimensional discipline creates undreamt-of freedom for three-dimensional anarchy,” yet each one evaporated into the on the ether of the delirious island.

Credit: OMA
By contrast, 121 East 22nd Street seems downright reticent. The OMA brochure states that “given the tight constraint of New York’s zoning laws, the site lacked an opportunity to create a special form, or reach a height that typically, in New York, attracts many buyers. The project is mid-rise and quite blocky, almost conforming to the zoning envelope.” The structure slots neatly within the prescribed bulk limits, where the main tower rises 210 feet to the parapet, and around 240 feet to the top of the bulkhead.
Credit: Laurian Ghinitoiu
Credit: Iwan Baan
Unfazed by the constraints, Shosei Shigematsu, Partner at OMA, the Director of the New York office, and the building’s lead designer, took the opportunity for a design that treats its historic context with dutiful deference, while striking a lightning bolt of architectural delight at the building’s most visible point.

 

At the intersection-facing corner, the tower’s orderly facade splits asunder into an asymmetric cascade of triangular forms, a playful gesture of the kind to which Koolhaas, in Delirious New York, refers to as “architectural mutations and irrational phenomena.”

Credit: Laurian Ghinitoiu
Credit: Laurian Ghinitoiu
Despite its boldness, the deconstructivism belies distinct functionality. The cantilevered street-level chamfer creates much-needed pedestrian space at the busy intersection, and forms an eye-catching entrance into the ground level retail space. The cutaways create unique apartment experiences as they zigzag up the facade. The chamfer at the setback smoothly transitions the corner to the cornice line, which seamlessly connects to the neighboring buildings.
Credit: Iwan Baan
More than a mere response to local zoning, this contextualism pays tribute to the building’s rich historic and cultural context. 121 East 22nd straddles the border between Gramercy to the south, where upper-class architectural and social conservatism has long held sway, and the dynamic Flatiron District by Madison Square, which channels the urban energy of the myriad neighborhoods of Midtown to the north.
Credit: Iwan Baan
The building treads carefully among its pre-war context, where an architectural array spans the Neo-Gothic, Renaissance, Neo-Byzantine, Beaux-Arts, and other storied stylistic eclecticisms. The structure seamlessly follows the established cornice line and streetwall.
Credit: Laurian Ghinitoiu
Credit: Laurian Ghinitoiu
At the main tower, window insets gradually grow deeper as they approach the neighboring buildings. Gently-stepped coffer niches soften the transition and send a respectful nod to the traditionalist enframements next door, without overt imitation.
Credit: Laurian Ghinitoiu
Credit: Laurian Ghinitoiu
The building takes a different approach at its 22nd Street facade, where dynamic indentations lend a subtle plasticity that animates the curtain wall without disrupting the streetwall continuity.
Credit: OMA
Like a crystal-filled geode, the building’s most surprising element lies in its interior, removed from the casual observer. The view down the inner courtyard is a common urban urban experience for New York’s apartment dwellers, yet few have the privilege at gazing upon a spatial experience as unique at that at 121 East 22nd.
Credit: Iwan Baan
The architects describe the inner courtyard as a “valley.” However, “canyon” would be a more apt term for the dynamic slants, strata-like layers of balcony balustrades, and craggy overhangs that situate the residents as veritable cliff-dwellers.
Credit: Iwan Baan
Credit: Iwan Baan
The courtyard’s light-colored cladding contrasts with the somber street facade, and brightens the narrow space.
Credit: Iwan Baan
The 275,387-square-foot building is developed by Toll Brothers City Living, in collaboration with Gemdale. SLCE acts as an executive architect. Incorporated Architecture & Design is the interior designer. LDGN Landscape Architects are credited for the outdoor areas.

 

Unit prices range from $1,175,000 for a 616-square-foot studio, to $9,500,000 for a 2,971-square-foot, three-bedroom penthouse.

 

The amenity roster includes a pool, a gym, a courtyard, a bicycle room, a lounge, a children’s room, a screening room, a roof terrace with an outdoor kitchen, and a garage. For the rest of New Yorkers, the building’s delight lies in its successful mediation between clean modernism and dynamic deconstructivism, identity and context, function and whimsy.


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Content & Research Manager Vitali Ogorodnikov
Twenty Broad seamlessly blends rich history with modern style, while paying homage to a historic space once set aside for the New York Stock Exchange. View Property
Spacious 1 Bedrooms with outdoor space and in-residence w/d View Property
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