There are few 300 foot buildings in Manhattan that will be as visually prominent to pedestrians as the Robert A.M. Stern-designed apartment building under construction at 500 West 30th Street. Although the north side of the building will be overshadowed by the Coach Tower in several years, the south side will remain in clear view – in fact, the vista offered to flaneurs on the High Line terminates with 500 West 30th Street. When the Coach Tower is complete, 500 West 30th will provide some visual transition between the brick low-rises and mid-rises adjacent to the High Line in Chelsea and the glass behemoths of Hudson Yards. For this reason, it was particularly important that this building be aesthetically coherent. Now that the construction is close to topping out, it’s safe to say New Yorkers won’t be disappointed.
500 West 30th Street has a lot going for it, the most important of which is the variegated brick facade. Admittedly, the facade is composed of pre-fabricated brick panels, but – as mentioned previously – much of the negative effect of the pre-fab panels is mitigated by judicious detailing, in particular by the accents of dark steel, which are applied in a restrained way. Note for example in the pictures that while the steel accenting is applied liberally at the base, it appears much more sparingly on the higher floors. For example, the edges of the building above the fourth floor are affixed not with steel but with a darker brick. The choice of darker brick rather than steel for the tower’s edges “softens” the facade, reduces verticality and avoids the appearance of steel “framing” the building. In general, Stern & Co. applied detail to the facade the way a make-up artist applies cosmetics to a face – enough to liven things up yet not so much as to call attention to itself.
One place where deft handling of details especially matter is in obscuring the parking garage on the second floor of the building. Fortunately, it is extremely rare to see above-ground parking garages in new construction residential buildings in Manhattan. Parking in the podium is usually a recipe for ugliness and deadening of the street-scape. Perhaps parking ended up on the second floor here because the proximity of the 10th avenue spur of the High Line made that space relatively unattractive as residences. The High Line guard rail would likely have blocked most northern exposures from apartments built at that level. Under Stern’s deft handling, the parking garage is well-integrated into the building, if not entirely invisible. The parking garage entrance is discreetly tucked in the back.
A building of this quality and style is particularly welcome in this area, which is starving for architecture that is friendly to pedestrians. Unlike the Ohm, which cuts a nice figure from afar but appears as just another concrete slab up close, 500 West 30th Street is pleasing from both vantage points.