Those good people over at DDG really love stone, especially bluestone. They love bluestone the way other people love macaroons and cupcakes, puppies and springtime.
This love of stone has been demonstrated in several of the firm’s previous undertakings in lower Manhattan, such as 41 Bond and 345meatpacking.
On the teaser site for their latest development at 12 Warren in Tribeca, one finds, unusually for an architectural website, striking images of bluestone quarries. You sense an almost libidinous appetite in the way the stone can be seen exposed, still fixed to the side of a cliff and then carved up and laid down along the floor of the quarry, its rosy gray tones suggesting a choice cut of prime rib or even a slice of prosciutto. The same images and more appear on DDG’s own website, along with, most dramatic of all, a doctored image of the future condo development, partially emerging from its stone matrix in a burst of energy, like one of Michelangelo’s unfinished nude figures, struggling to free itself from the block of stone from which it is being born.
As is usually the case at DDG, in its latest project, the firm employs an internal team of architects. This has surely yielded excellent results in the past: In the two previous projects associated with this firm, the love of stone was kept in check, and the result was a well-ordered design with smooth stone facing and coloration, enhanced with a few metallic accents, in the case of 345meatpacking.
In their latest endeavor, however, the stone seems far more raw and primitive, and rather than remaining politely and fastidiously within its box, as was the case with those previous examples, it protrudes and recedes from the street wall with an energy that derives in equal measure from deconstructivism and brutalism.
At 41 Bond, the most traditional of the firm’s projects in the city, the general structure of the building has an almost pre-war feeling to it, and the stone remains politely in place, deployed more or less as one would expect it to be deployed. In the flattened façade of 345meatpacking, an unadorned cubic mass of the façade is qualified only toward the top, where it begins to disintegrate into a glass-and-steel setback.
In the case of their latest project as well, all is in order up to the seventh floor, the façade a tidy collection of wall and windows, given dramatic texture by the sort of punched windows that also appeared on 345meatpacking.
The first seven stories of what will ultimately be a 12-story building consist, in fact, of the overhauled pre-existing structure, which was for many years a printing plant. This is in keeping with what was once the almost exclusively industrial tone of this neighborhood, and the continuing trend of converting the city’s old industrial zones into luxury housing. To this earlier building is added an entirely new section, rising six more floors. Because of the relative width of the building, the apartments will be correspondingly wide, either full-floor homes or duplexes and triplexes. The majority of these residences will also have private exterior spaces.
The façade of the upper five stories is the scene of the real drama of this development, in marked contrast to the relative calm of the lower portion of the building. A syncopated sequence of balconies juts out from the recessed stories toward the top of the building and these, we are informed by the developers, are supposed to suggest the natural configuration of bluestone as it forms in its quarries. The irregular placement of these balconies is clearly in keeping with the deconstructivist aesthetic that has dominated architectural practice in recent years, but it is also in step with the brutalist aesthetic that has been making a comeback over the past few seasons. This brutalist aesthetic is visible in some of the interior renderings, where strips of bluestone manage to look remarkably like those gray expanses of bare concrete that were so beloved of the architects of the 1960s, 70s and early 80s.
At the same time, however, the inherent, if slightly eccentric, order of the typical brutalist façade is rejected at 12 Warren, not only in the upper portions but also in the treatment of the window surrounds in the lower part of the building, superimposed on the pre-existent structure. The lack of any discernible order in the totality of the windows is to be taken as a sign of rebellion, of architectural freedom, against the expected symmetries of mainstream architecture. The lower façade reveals slight shifts in its surface plane that are likewise signs of deconstructivist rebellion.
In a sense, the projects that DDG has completed or is completing in Manhattan have engaged the aesthetic of the box, especially the mid-block box. And each of them, in its own way, has managed to come up with a striking and memorable solution to the problem of how, at this late date, to construct at such a site without inducing the usual sense of boredom. In all of DDG’s buildings, one senses an almost polemical passion, a need to make an impression and to make a point.
At 41 Bond, DDG has created its most classical structure of all. This is clearly thinking within the proverbial box. The point is order and calm. The exquisitely uniform windows, arrayed in four bays, with almost classical window surrounds, fit into their bluestone matrix with an almost conservative serenity. The darkened void formed by the balcony of the penthouse represents a marvelous and inspired crown to the whole project.
At 345meatpacking, that sense of classicism is gone, although the symmetry remains, this time entirely unadorned across its strikingly flattened surface to create an effect similar to minimalist sculpture of the 1960s. But then, at the setback around the 10th floor, metal takes over and a kind of orderly disorder ensues.
But at 12 Warren, that sense of disorder wins out. The strips and bricks of bluestone are joined in a far rougher way — almost as though they were a 21st century equivalent of classical architecture’s rustication — perhaps in obedience to the very fractiousness and unruliness that is native to this stone. This sense is conveyed even in the interior spaces, where the stone forms the facing of walls and ceilings. The very coloration of the stone is uneven in places, conveying a similar sense of formal instability. Furthermore, the renderings anticipate bits of greenery here and there throughout that look almost like the architectonic equivalent of a five o’clock shadow.
As always, the ultimate success of this project cannot be determined until one is standing in front of the finished work. But for now, 12 Warren promises to be successful.