IN THE 21ST CENTURY, few figures have taken on more high-profile architectural and civic projects than the British designer Thomas Heatherwick. He and his team designed Google’s Mountain View corporate headquarters, conceived of a massive Manhattan tourist attraction (we covered his sensational Vessel observation deck structure in a previous column), imagined numerous public art pieces, built innovative bridges, and even created the striking 2012 Olympic cauldron, in which 204 copper petals converged dramatically to create a single cauldron in the opening ceremony.
Highly imaginative and often provocative, Heatherwick Studio always seems to work off of the same animating question: “what if?” Their designs are grand conceptual projects or elegant creative solutions, challenging conventional wisdom and asking whimsical questions. Never strictly architects, the studio’s work spans discipline, embracing facets of industrial design, furniture, and even fashion in its search to create things that surprise and delight their beholders. Each project feels like a fresh research initiative, striking out into new territory to explore new possibilities, materials, and concepts.
This meandering and freewheeling approach has netted Heatherwick Studio a diverse portfolio that includes both a handbag and a redesign of London’s double-decker buses. As a result, the studio was the subject of a major retrospective at the Victoria & Albert Museum, raising their profile considerably and sparking demand across the world. And nowhere is a bit of buzz more welcome than in the competitive and increasingly international world of New York real estate.
If there’s a “what if” behind Lantern House, Heatherwick Studio’s first residential project in the United States (SLCE Architects served as the architect of record), it seems to be: “what if every window was a bay window?” At once historic industrial and optimistically futuristic, Lantern House makes use of a custom masonry facade: a dramatic and generous paneled window that juts outward in all directions, expand-ing residents’ views, drawing in more light, and offering up an obvious “best seat in the house.” And while the building’s glass and brick may be familiar to the formerly-industrial neighborhood, its form is something entirely new.
Overlooking New York’s buzzy High Line park in the gallery-dotted West Chelsea neighborhood, Lantern House is comprised of two towers: one 22-story tower and another that rises ten stories. They are connected by an elegant glass lobby that sits cozily beneath the High Line. Each of the 181 condo residences features one of the building’s signature bulbous window units—or at least half of one, as most of the building’s “bubbles” encompass two floors.
Taken together, Lantern House evokes a stack of fishbowls or observation bubbles, each offering residents a fuller view of the city than a more conventional flat window would. Both a democratic gesture and a slight provocation, Lantern House seems to also ask the question “what if everyone got a corner office?” Of course, there’s a certain irony at play considering its context. Lantern House rises above one of the city’s most expensive neighborhoods. Units at Lantern House range between $1.4 million for a one-bedroom unit and nearly $20 million for one of the project’s commanding penthouses. As one would expect, the project’s amenities and shared spaces are extravagant. There are an indoor saltwater pool and a fitness center that is bathed in daylight from the building’s huge windows. Unit interiors, designed by British firm March & White, are lush and natural, incorporating natural textures of marble, bronze, and oak.
In a city where real estate extravagance seems to know no bounds, Lantern House joins an increasingly crowded field of sig-nature projects with starchitect provenance. Not far from Lantern House are Zaha Hadid’s swooping condos at 520 West 28th Street and Bjarke Ingels’ angular towers at 76 Eleventh Avenue. In fact, one would be forgiven for mistaking Chelsea for some kind of international design competition. While it’s an exciting time for New York real estate, one wonders how our current era will be perceived by history. Lacking the cohesion of a dominant school or approach may yet result in a flamboyant jumble of “what ifs.”
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