Skip to main content

Gehry's (two) seductive NYC projects

Future New York-based clients of starchitect Frank Gehry need not travel to see his Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao or his Disney Hall performing arts center in Los Angeles. A sense of his seductively sinuous architecture is available via visits to his two completed projects, the InterActive (IAC) building (2007) in West Chelsea, and the corporate dining room and cafeteria (2000) at the Condé Nast building at 4 Times Square.

(Photos of IAC building from official site.)

I paid $50 for the privilege of visiting the two on Oct. 12, joining a tour sponsored by Architectural Digest (a Condé Nast publication), as part of their Architecture Days celebration. And the work is quite impressive, though it doesn’t give much of a clue as to what Gehry would produce on a much larger scale for Atlantic Yards.

The West Chelsea site, on 18th Street at 11th Avenue across from Chelsea Piers, sits at the edge of a former warehouse district that has become home to numerous art galleries. It has “a less urban feel that much of Manhattan,” observed our tour guide, adding that the emerging arts district is “a community with an open mind—a perfect setting for a building by Frank Gehry."


The curved glass panels make the ten-story, 160-foot building look something like a ship, and the seemingly translucent milky windows vary from opaque to transparent depending on time of day and use of shades; parts of the building even reflect back on each other. It’s even more impressive from a distance, or from a car whizzing past.

The ground floor contains two cutting-edge video walls, one of which displays real-time content, from around the globe from IAC’s digital brands, including,, and Ticketmaster. An even larger video wall, the equivalent of more than 250 42” plasma screens, provides an opportunity for enormous artistic installations. The space, which could be a gallery, hosts events and will be marketed more in the future.

Gehry himself designed a curving wooden bench in the lobby, with echoes of driftwood. Some extremely hip looking people were perched there with iPods and laptops. Waiting for an appointment upstairs? No, said our guide; it’s open to the public. (I don’t think they’ve exactly publicized that.)

A tour through the offices showed lots of natural light, some occasionally jarring wall colors, a delightful spectrum of colors in the bathrooms (IAC honcho Barry Diller apparently liked the entire palette designers presented), and well-stocked (and free) pantries for snacking. The average age of IAC employees seems to hover around 30.

Metropolis reported, in a June 2007 article headlined Diller, Gehry, and the Glass Schooner on 18th Street:
Achieving these effects involved what designers close to the project say was a very unusual collaboration between Diller and Gehry. Studios Architecture was the lead firm on the interior, and architect Todd DeGarmo says the intent all along was to find a way to mute the overwhelming gestures of Gehry’s exterior and allow the diverse culture of IAC’s various businesses (Ticketmaster, LendingTree,,,, and nearly 60 others) to emerge while integrating the two visions into a coherent whole.

Back to Times Square

We bussed back to Condé Nast—for security reasons, the tour started there—and ascended to the fourth floor, where we had drinks and snacks in the executive dining room, which has a more subdued sense of the Gehry swoop.

The nearby cafeteria, typically accessible only to Condé Nast-ies and their guests, has blue accents and again features Gehry’s curves. The amount of seating seems relatively small, given the size of the company, but a lot of people apparently take food back to their desks.
(Photo from Arcspace)

Curiously, Condé Nast is bidding to move its headquarters to Hudson Yards. Would Gehry get the cafeteria commission again?

Gehry then and now

Gehry has a mixed history in New York; in 1987, he produced a plan for two towers at the site of Madison Square Garden; the arena would've been moved to the Hudson Yards, decades ahead of the development boom.

Since the Bilbao museum opened in 1997, there have been some aborted projects: a 2002 proposal for a Guggenheim branch on Wall Street ran aground because of money troubles; a glass galleria for Lincoln Center was put aside; and Gehry, famously, was a finalist for the New York Times Tower.

It was that competition that introduced Gehry to Times Tower co-developer Bruce Ratner, who hired Gehry for two much larger projects than those he has so far completed in New York, including the 75-story Beekman Tower, the tallest residential building in Lower Manhattan. Gehry’s slated to co-design a new theater in the Brooklyn Academy of Music cultural district.


And, of course, Gehry is the architect for Atlantic Yards. He's described the glass-clad flagship Miss Brooklyn tower as "my ego trip," while the Brooklyn Tomorrow advertorial calls it "elegant" and a more neutral observer might call it "imposing" (and point out that the Urban Room at its tip is not depicted with all the advertising planned).

Then again, with Atlantic Yards, Gehry apparently is trying to use more materials associated with Brooklyn architecture, like brick and stone, so his project seems less like a titanium-and-glass spaceship. He once said he'd typically get other architects to help design such a big project, and he still hasn't met with the community but instead has dissed protesters, cracking that they should have been "picketing Henry Ford."

On the tour Friday, our guide, perhaps not surprisingly, got some information on Atlantic Yards wrong. While he accurately called it a “very controversial project” and mentioned the arena, it would not be “ten apartment buildings scattered along Atlantic Avenue,” but rather 16 towers not only along Atlantic Avenue but also ranging south to Dean Street.

“The site has been cleared, but the litigation continues,” he said. Well, the litigation continues, but until it is resolved, the site cannot be cleared.


  1. personally every time I drive past the Building on 18th street and the west side...I think "Iceberg dead ahead...." and wonder how far down it goes...

    Sid Meyer


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Forest City acknowledges unspecified delays in Pacific Park, cites $300 million "impairment" in project value; what about affordable housing pledge?

Updated Monday Nov. 7 am: Note follow-up coverage of stock price drop and investor conference call and pending questions.

Pacific Park Brooklyn is seriously delayed, Forest City Realty Trust said yesterday in a news release, which further acknowledged that the project has caused a $300 million impairment, or write-down of the asset, as the expected revenues no longer exceed the carrying cost.

The Cleveland-based developer, parent of Brooklyn-based Forest City Ratner, which is a 30% investor in Pacific Park along with 70% partner/overseer Greenland USA, blamed the "significant impairment" on an oversupply of market-rate apartments, the uncertain fate of the 421-a tax break, and a continued increase in construction costs.

While the delay essentially confirms the obvious, given that two major buildings have not launched despite plans to do so, it raises significant questions about the future of the project, including:
if market-rate construction is delayed, will the affordable h…

Revising official figures, new report reveals Nets averaged just 11,622 home fans last season, Islanders drew 11,200 (and have option to leave in 2018)

The Brooklyn Nets drew an average of only 11,622 fans per home game in their most recent (and lousy) season, more than 23% below the announced official attendance figure, and little more than 65% of the Barclays Center's capacity.

The New York Islanders also drew some 19.4% below announced attendance, or 11,200 fans per home game.

The surprising numbers were disclosed in a consultant's report attached to the Preliminary Official Statement for the refinancing of some $462 million in tax-exempt bonds for the Barclays Center (plus another $20 million in taxable bonds). The refinancing should lower costs to Mikhail Prokhorov, owner of the arena operating company, by and average of $3.4 million a year through 2044 in paying off arena construction.

According to official figures, the Brooklyn Nets attendance averaged 17,187 in the debut season, 2012-13, 17,251 in 2013-14, 17,037 in 2014-15, and 15,125 in the most recent season, 2015-16. For hoops, the arena holds 17,732.

But official…

At 550 Vanderbilt, big chunk of apartments pitched to Chinese buyers as "international units"

One key to sales at the 550 Vanderbilt condo is the connection to China, thanks to Shanghai-based developer Greenland Holdings.

It's the parent of Greenland USA, which as part of Greenland Forest City Partners owns 70% of Pacific Park (except 461 Dean and the arena).

And sales in China may help explain how the developer was able to claim early momentum.
"Since 550 Vanderbilt launched pre-sales in June [2015], more than 80 residences have gone into contract, representing over 30% of the building’s 278 total residences," the developer said in a 9/25/15 press release announcing the opening of a sales gallery in Brooklyn. "The strong response from the marketplace indicates the high level of demand for well-designed new luxury homes in Brooklyn..."

Maybe. Or maybe it just meant a decent initial pipeline to Chinese buyers.

As lawyer Jay Neveloff, who represents Forest City, told the Real Deal in 2015, a project involving a Chinese firm "creates a huge market for…

Is Barclays Center dumping the Islanders, or are they renegotiating? Evidence varies (bond doc, cash receipts); NHL attendance biggest variable

The Internet has been abuzz since Bloomberg's Scott Soshnick reported 1/30/17, using an overly conclusory headline, that Brooklyn’s Barclays Center Is Dumping the Islanders.

That would end an unusual arrangement in which the arena agrees to pay the team a fixed sum (minus certain expenses), in exchange for keeping tickets, suite, and sponsorship revenue.

The arena would earn more without the hockey team, according to Bloomberg, which cited “a financial projection shared with potential investors showed the Islanders won’t contribute any revenue after the 2018-19 season--a clear signal that the team won’t play there, the people said."

That "signal," however, is hardly definitive, as are the media leaks about a prospective new arena in Queens, as shown in the screenshot below from Newsday. Both sides are surely pushing for advantage, if not bluffing.

Consider: the arena and the Islanders can't even formally begin their opt-out talks until after this season. The disc…

Skanska says it "expected to assemble a properly designed modular building, not engage in an iterative R&D experiment"

On 12/10/16, I noted that FastCo.Design's Prefab's Moment of Reckoning article dialed back the gush on the 461 Dean modular tower compared to the publication's previous coverage.

Still, I noted that the article relied on developer Forest City Ratner and architect SHoP to put the best possible spin on what was clearly a failure. From the article: At the project's outset, it took the factory (managed by Skanska at the time) two to three weeks to build a module. By the end, under FCRC's management, the builders cut that down to six days. "The project took a little longer than expected and cost a little bit more than expected because we started the project with the wrong contractor," [Forest City's Adam] Greene says.Skanska jabs back
Well, Forest City's estranged partner Skanska later weighed in--not sure whether they weren't asked or just missed a deadline--and their article was updated 12/13/16. Here's Skanska's statement, which shows th…

Not just logistics: bypassing Brooklyn for DNC 2016 also saved on optics (role of Russian oligarch, Shanghai government)

Surely the logistical challenges of holding a national presidential nominating convention in Brooklyn were the main (and stated) reasons for the Democratic National Committee's choice of Philadelphia.

And, as I wrote in NY Slant, the huge security cordon in Philadelphia would have been impossible in Brooklyn.

But consider also the optics. As I wrote in my 1/21/15 op-ed in the Times arguing that the choice of Brooklyn was a bad idea:
The arena also raises ethically sticky questions for the Democrats. While the Barclays Center is owned primarily by Forest City Ratner, 45 percent of it is owned by the Russian billionaire Mikhail D. Prokhorov (who also owns 80 percent of the Brooklyn Nets). Mr. Prokhorov has a necessarily cordial relationship with Russia’s president, Vladimir V. Putin — though he has been critical of Mr. Putin in the past, last year, at the Russian president’s request, he tried to transfer ownership of the Nets to one of his Moscow-based companies. An oligarch-owned a…