Volume 73, Number 46 | March 17 -23, 2004

Selling architecture as art on the waterfront

By Lincoln Anderson

Villager photos by Lincoln Anderson

Salman Rushdie, left, and architect Richard Meier

In what was billed as “a very special evening celebrating a powerful vision for the relationship between Art and Architecture,” 350 people were invited to join Richard Meier for wine and hors d’oeuvres at a Charles St. loft last Friday, near the site of his third new residential tower on the Village waterfront, 165 Charles Street.

The first two Meier towers, developed by Richard Born, were completed last year at Perry and West Sts. The third, featuring the same modernistic glass-and-white-metal design, is currently being built by Izak Senbahar and Simon Elias between Charles Lane and Charles St.

The new building will have 31 condominium apartments, with most going for $5.5 million to $5.6 million. The asking price for the duplex penthouse is $18.5 million to $19 million.

Displayed throughout the gallery were balsa wood and clear Lucite models of Meier projects and his industrial-looking metal sculptures. In line with the buildings-as-art angle, the gallery was a featured stop on the Armory Show circuit.

Meier’s buildings have come under criticism for being too tall and architecturally inappropriate for the historic, low-scale Village waterfront. In fact they are the poster child for preservationists and residents’ fight to save the Village from overdevelopment — a photo of them having been featured on flyers for last week’s urgent town hall meeting on the subject.

Asked about many Villagers’ negative reaction to his buildings, Meier replied, “I did Westbeth, so I’m no stranger to the Village.” Meier designed the renovation of the artists housing complex at Bethune and West Sts., 40 years ago.

“I’ve lived on almost every street” in the Village, Meier added. “I’ve lived on Perry St., Bleecker St., I’ve had so many apartments.”

Asked about the 300 sq. ft. of historic cobblestones on Charles Lane that were removed for a construction fence for 165 Charles Street, Meier said they weren’t removed, only covered. He said he’d read “a couple of articles about it,” apparently referring to The Villager, but that they were inaccurate. However, the cobblestones are indeed gone.

Was the Hudson River Park a big selling point for him?

“Oh, absolutely,” he said, before turning to mingle with guests.

A flat-screen TV showed a marketing video of Meier talking about the project to pulsing techno music, interspersed with scenes of Hudson River Park, such as people jogging on the esplanade or silhouetted sitting next to a mountain bike, watching a golden sunset over the river. On the wall were photographs of Hudson River Park.

In the video Meier says that his buildings are “the gateway to Hudson River Park. It makes that part of the park unique and distinctive…. The most important thing to me living in New York City,” he adds, “is light and air.”

Author Salman Rushdie, a longtime Meier friend, was at the event with his fiancé, model and actress Padma Lakshmi.

“I’ve been looking at these buildings, walking past on the river, for a long time,” Rushdie said. “I’ve always liked Richard’s stuff. If I was looking for a place in New York and I didn’t have a place, I would consider it. I love the river view. I grew up by the sea. It’s nice to see New York in a way, getting open to the waterfront. It’s getting so much easier to enjoy the waterfront, and buildings like this are part of it.”

Rushdie admitted, though, were he a neighbor his view might be different.

“If I was living here — I don’t know,” he said. “But I’m just passing by.”

Sales director Madeline Hult of the Sunshine Group said they have seven letters of intent to purchase condos in the new building. Who are typical buyers?

“A lot of people from Park Ave. are moving Downtown,” she said. “It’s pretty boring up there. People enjoy the restaurants, the ambience down here. The product Uptown is the prewar building. Downtown you have more different spaces, townhouses, funky layouts, a mixture.”

As opposed to Meier’s two earlier buildings, which were entirely raw space for the buyer to design, the third building will have kitchens and bathrooms designed by Meier. The ceilings will be 11 ft. tall, instead of 9 ft., the window panes will be larger and there will be balconies on the south and north sides.

Hult was looking at a model of the building with a buyer. Dressed all in black with stylishly close-cropped hair, 44, he was a jazz session pianist who said he’d done well on record royalties. He’s buying a condo on the south side, eighth floor.

“I love the neighborhood. I love the river view, like floating on the water,” he said, requesting anonymity. “I think it’s very unique. There are not many places with windows that are floor to ceiling. I know the neighborhood is totally against them. But change is constant. Some people wish there were no TV’s, no cell phones, no computers. The world moves forward. It doesn’t move backward.”

An Upper West Sider, he said, ironically, he used to have a river view “before Donald Trump built his towers.”


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