New York City. City that never sleeps. City of lights, glitz, glam, and a density that is hard to fathom. The natives move quickly and with a kind of rhythm, which usually includes headphones and tuning out the outside busy world around them. To Architects like us “the City” is fascinating, mostly because of its impressive architecture but also because it is so interesting to see and learn how people live and adapt to such a dense environment.
We were fortunate enough to listen to a panel of famous New York architects, including Elizabeth Diller of Diller Scofidio Renfro, explain their nearly completed development called Hudson Yards. Diller, or “Liz” as her colleagues called her, explained that people only really experience about a 10 foot plane around them, or 15 if they’re crossing the street. How do we, as Urbanists and Architects, create interest at this street level to activate those people that get into their “rhythms”? The thought process of these NY Architects seems to be that of both artist and innovator. They are the ones that most Architects look to for inspiration and use precedent studies from their work for our own buildings. Because they have built a famous name for themselves/ their firms they usually work with much bigger budgets and can create and shape what the client will build. The Hudson Yards development is no exception and is a multi billion dollar mixed use development with around 18 million square feet. The Shed, designed by Liz Diller, literally has a moving canopy that, when completed, will move in and out and sway to complement the performers housed inside.
Adjacent to her building is an office building designed by Kohn Peterson Fox, whose principal Architect Bill Peterson was also present at the panel. Bill explained that high rise buildings are like people at a cocktail party. They must compliment each other, move and sway as if they are interacting with each other. His building angles towards the sky, which accomplishes this task of interaction and as he explained has a reason for this angle which naturally forms from elevator banks dropping off as the building rises. The building’s windows are angled towards the sky like fish scales so that it only reflects the color of the sky and not the surrounding buildings.
Perhaps the most intriguing of structures is called “the Vessel” or affectionately called the pineapple due to its distinct form. The architect, Thomas Heatherwick, was the last to arrive at the cocktail party. He was tasked with a very difficult design challenge to design a space or structure to be the centerpiece of the development. How do you compliment all of these great buildings? How do you make a large urban space feel smaller and more intimate, with interesting spatial experiences? The space that Heatherwick was tasked with programming/ designing sits in a large plaza dwarfed by looming large scale buildings, which as he pointed out, would feel overwhelming and uncomfortable to walk through. Heatherwick’s Vessel addresses this issue by its massive 16 story scale and series of stairs and landings. Each landing creates a new perspective of the city and its landscape, forcing people to look up from their comfortable 10 foot viewing area. It takes an otherwise flat plaza and extrudes it into the “Z” direction. The interior of the vessel is a spatial experience of its own, created by the scale of the piece. Heatherwick explained the inspiration of this piece is an abstracted and elevated interpretation of the Highline, which runs through Hudson Yards.
The group of high rises were interesting characters at the cocktail party, and were described as “the dolemites, the mastodons, and a pineapple”. It is this collaboration that creates interest for all of its users no matter who they are or where they originate. It is this that forces people to get out of their 10 foot comfort zone and interact with the space around them. It is this that inspires us to go bigger, bolder, and more spectacular with our designs as Architects. In the end we are tasked with making the built environment around us better, as Hudson Yards will surely achieve.