Increasing the chances that great buildings get built isn’t only about pushing developers to hire starchitects; it’s about achieving a good match between the architect, the program, and the site. It’s about recognizing an architect’s weaknesses as well as their strengths. Few architects are so well-rounded as to be good for any project. For example, perhaps it’s best for Renzo Piano to stick to more mainstream art museums and forego attempts at the avant-garde. Robert AM Stern will deliver you a majestic tower on Central Park, but he isn’t your go-to guy for iconic museums. Le Corbusier’s muse dazzled with small buildings but turned deafening on a large scale.
So the obvious question is whether Bjarke Ingels, the precocious Dane, is a good match to design the apartment building at the intersection of 57th street and the West Side Highway – official address 625 West 57th Street, aka The Pyramid. Not surprisingly, the answer is yes, and the site plays to Ingels’ design strengths – and, just as importantly, minimizes his weaknesses.
The West Side Highway is a great place for a giant sculptural building. Such a structure is not fully appreciated from up close, and thus requires a site like this where it can be viewed from a distance. Motorists heading south on the Highway hit their first stoplight at 56th street, so 625 West 57th Street can serve as an icon signaling their arrival in Midtown – the building will also of course make NYC that much more enticing from across the river.
The site is also well-suited to Ingels because it minimizes the import of his purported design limitations. In a 2012 profile of Ingels in the New Yorker, the author paraphrased the editor of architecture magazine CLOG, Kyle May, who claimed that Ingels “offer[ed] little beyond the primary gesture: the twist, the slope. If you’ve seen the video accompanying the initial pitch … you know the building.”
That Ingels isn’t a details man won’t matter for 12th avenue, nor for the half block of 57th street closest to 12th avenue. This is not an area with much pedestrian traffic and isn’t likely to become one. The Highway is divided at this point, and entrances to the Hudson River park are farther south. Meanwhile, 625 West 57th Street’s location is farther east on 57th street, and the base won’t include retail – in part because of the lack of foot traffic.
Instead, Ingels’ bailiwick – the twist and the slope – are precisely what is needed at this prominent location. With the latest shots of construction showing concrete now pouring, it is what the neighborhood will receive, as well – a healthy dose of starchitecture.