Shelton, Mindel creates an airy, ephemeral suite in New York to market condominiums in Herzog & De Meuron's first skyscraper
Craig Kellogg -- Interior Design, 1/1/2009 12:00:00 AM
Developers of the apartment building at 56 Leonard Street in Manhattan admit that they asked for "a global landmark with a New York address." Herzog & De Meuron Architekten, which did Beijing proud with the Bird's Nest Olympic stadium, came up with 60 stories of concrete and glass that somehow recalls Ludwig Mies van der Rohe on the inside and a teetering pile of Jenga blocks outside. At street level, Anish Kapoor's shiny sculpture cushions a corner of the base like a squished Mylar balloon.
The design is progressive from top to toe—a clear draw for boldface names. One pugnacious and political Oscar-winning director dropped by the other day, imagining he could move right in. Unfortunately the building is far from finished; it is, in fact, little more than a hole in the ground. Construction is projected to wrap in 2010. Dream deferred.
Facing delayed gratification, potential occupants must not be allowed to wander off. For this reason, developers of Manhattan office towers commission elaborate off-site leasing suites. The new Sales and Design Gallery for 56 Leonard—just down the street, at number 75—brilliantly translates that kind of marketing mojo for the residential realm.
Herzog & De Meuron blocked out functions for the 2,500-square-foot facility on the gutted ground floor of a historic cast-iron building. Shelton, Mindel & Associates then fleshed out the scheme, starting with a multimedia entry gallery that principal and Interior Design Hall of Fame member Lee Mindel compares to an urban vest-pocket park. He designed and fabricated a custom wood-slat bench where visitors pause to watch an artful video chronicling the development of the tower's design.
The adjoining gallery incorporates a reception desk and an intimate alcove punctuated by an illuminated model of the building. Standard doors lead to meeting rooms, where final details are negotiated with buyers. At the rear, the tall blond oak door—as specified for the actual condominiums—opens onto a fully realized apartment simulation. "We crawled into the psyche of the building to project a dream of what it will be," says Mindel.
The designer sought inspiration in Switzerland, stealing away from Art Basel one afternoon last year to spend time reviewing the project's development with its architects in their nearby office. "The building is of such high architectural caliber—our thought process had to be, too," he continues.
The final layout for the model apartment does not follow precisely any of the actual floor plans, relying instead on authentic elements built full-scale and juxtaposed, as if in a collage. Custom sinks and mirrors by Herzog & De Meuron outfit the bathrooms while, at one end of the large living-dining area, the Swiss firm's typical kitchen has acid-etched mirror-fronted cabinets and an island of honed granite topping a glossy black lacquered base. Adjacent, a solid concrete column appears to be structural but isn't, though it is genuinely heavy.
Oak flooring throughout has been glazed with a satin finish. Herzog & De Meuron's anodized-aluminum window frames, replicated here in painted wood, are 12 feet high. (Some apartments will have windows as tall as 14 feet.) Inset into the top window frame is a curtain track—Mindel's addition—from which lightweight "cloud gray" wool scrim hangs over a cotton lining. (The two layers dangle free at the bottom, like a petticoat and an overskirt, for a softened visual effect Mindel terms "Vaseline on the lens.") In lieu of a view, the windows look out on taut white fabric panels; they're backlit by computer-controlled banks of lighting that brighten and dim to simulate clouds floating through a sunny sky.
The custom sofa and occasional chairs—even a beanbag with flannel panels seamed together like a soccer ball—are a neutral, concrete-colored wool. "We were careful not to 'genderize' the space," Mindel laughs. "It's an equal-rights sensibility." He commissioned the rug from the same carpet weavers used by the Frank Lloyd Wright Foundation. The pattern picks up the building's idea of thrusting vectors, using lines to represent the direction from which sunlight would shine in the room. To echo the architecture's angles and pivots in the furnishings, he found a red Shiro Kuramata revolving cabinet and a rare black Isamu Noguchi chess table with a rotating top.
Most of the other pieces were borrowed or bought from favorite international dealers and galleries. "The building is a piece of art," Mindel adds. "The things that go into it should reflect that." Sean Kelly Gallery, for example, loaned an iconic photographic print of a tulip from the Robert Mapplethorpe estate. As the cheapest apartments are priced at more than $3 million, Mindel strictly avoided catalog items, with one exquisitely affordable exception. The laboratory-inspired glass accessories are standard mass-market design.