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Interview: Alta Indelman on 61 Fifth Avenue

61 Fifth Avenue61 Fifth Avenue

YIMBY sat down with architect Alta Indelman to discuss her latest major work, 61 Fifth Avenue. The building is Indelman’s first ground-up project in Manhattan, and the result does not disappoint. Built with pre-war sensibilities in mind, 61 Fifth stays true to its inspiration, using real materials to create something better than the past – an addition to lower Fifth Avenue that is more ‘Gotham City’ than many of its older neighbors.

Y: 61 Fifth is your first new building in New York, yes?

A: It’s my first building from the ground-up – it’s a special opportunity.

What are the chief materials in the facade?

The stone is Indiana Buff limestone – and that’s original 5th Avenue limestone. The base is Deer Isle Granite – also an original 5th Avenue granite, and many of the bases of nearby buildings on 5th have that stone. They’re both domestic stones, they’re both American stones.

And the transition between the brick and the limestone is nearly seamless; was that intentional?

The brick is as close to the limestone color as we could get it, and the trim around the windows is also real limestone – it’s not a thin veneer. The cornices are also solid limestone. And the top of the building is clad in pre-patinated copper – it’s real copper, and there’s a process that speeds up the natural patination process. But that is a natural patina; it’s the same as it would be if it had been sitting here for thirty years. It’s a Scandinavian product and they just do all the necessary preparation in their factory.

61 Fifth Avenue

61 Fifth Avenue

The double-height windows are a very nice feature.

The windows are casement, and they span two floors, so there’s a spandrel glass panel in the middle that conceals the floor structure. There are casements, and there are stationary picture windows – and these are aluminum – but they are custom made so as to have the slimmest-possible profile, and we are closer to what one might expect a steel window profile to be.

It’s 10 stories?

It is, including the triplex. There are three duplex apartments and the triplex.

You don’t see such efforts with small projects in New York, typically.

We certainly made efforts to pay complete attention to detail – as Mies van der Rohe said, ‘God is in the details.’

View from the roof of 61 Fifth Avenue

Looking up 5th Avenue from 61 Fifth’s roof

What would you like to see more of in New York’s architecture – in terms of new buildings?

I have a very open view, but I’m an architect so I enjoy creativity and innovation; I also understand the need to respect context, and to choose very carefully when one does not. I think that there are ways to incorporate contextual elements that are not stifling in architecture, and I think each site has to be evaluated very carefully, and that people should take their time to figure it out, and to look, and to think, and observe, and to detail. People must choose materials carefully and use them well – and to pay attention to scale, and also the cityscape as a whole, not just to the individual building. You have to ask – what will this do for the city?

Do you see yourself designing any skyscrapers?

As an architect I like to have opportunities of varying types, and of good practice; anyone who is interested in good design or good purpose, I’m interested in doing that work. We’re very careful about how we detail, we’re very careful about what maneuvers we make – and try not to do any one-liners. We want something that will stand the test of time. It’s like the ‘Whole Foods’ movement; but rather, the ‘real materials’ movement. And I really believe in that.

61 Fifth Avenue

61 Fifth Avenue

It seems your philosophy – and 61 Fifth – ultimately come down to context, and sensitivity for it.

I think when architects design – I mean, my goal is for a project to be part of the urban fabric, as well as an entity unto itself. I don’t think you can separate the two, I think they have to be entwined, either in an architectural way or in a decidedly not, but in an informed way. I enjoy the challenge.

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