Bjarke Ingels’s BIG Housing Experiment In New York [Slideshow]

A 600-unit residential complex on Manhattan’s west side marries the American skyscraper to the traditional European perimeter block, to create real estate that’s downright democratic (if you can afford it).

Ending months of anticipation, rock-star Danish architecture firm Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG) revealed details of a massive residential complex in New York City yesterday. W57 — named for the street on the Hudson River where the 600-unit structure is planned — will be a striking addition to Manhattan’s skyline when it rises in 2015. Short in stature (in some places, anyway), but towering in ambition, it purports to do something never before done in New York: Mate the American skyscraper and the European perimeter block to spawn a freak, architectural love child.


Here’s why we should care: Perimeter blocks generally involve a stout ring of low-density housing around a courtyard. That’s great for residents, but bad for big cities. Skyscrapers are far more efficient, because they save space — they also create dark interior spaces and soul-less hallways. BIG’s great innovation is to marry the two. W57 is both a perimeter block and a high-rise: A hybrid building that promises a better quality of life for residents, within a New York context.

Based on the renderings, W57 certainly doesn’t look like anything else in New York. From one perspective, it resembles a pyramid; from another, the Shard, in London; from still another, a warped Dunkin? Donut. By Ingels’s own admission: “It looks quite wild.”

Uh, yeah. But there’s a persuasive logic at play. The shape is a dramatically skewed box that’ll rise 467 feet at the northeast tip then dip at the other three corners, with a large courtyard in the center. It’s designed to open up views and natural daylight to every residential unit in the building. (The 870,000-square-foot structure will also house some commercial and cultural tenants.) What’s more, each unit has either a balcony or a bay window. These features — and others not yet hammered out — are expected to contribute to an overall LEED Gold certification.

[A page from Fast Company‘s feature on Ingels, which originally broke the news of the W57 housing development]


The courtyard, meanwhile, will provide insulated green space to residents in a part of the city woefully short on parks. Ingels sees it as a “big urban oasis. ” a shared safe haven and an outdoor space protected from the noise and the street, where those inhabiting the building can let their kids play and interact with each other, instead of only interacting in the corridors or on the elevator.? So he’s throwing in a bit of social engineering, is he? Tricky, tricky.

All of which is standard issue in Denmark. As Ingels tells it: “In a city like Copenhagen you can’t do new housing without balconies. It’s a human right to have access to outdoor space.” (That’s lofty stuff for those of us in New York, where the mantra’s something more like, ?It’s a human right to have a disintegrating fire escape.?)

Here’s the interesting part: This isn’t just gooey social and environmental idealism. There’s a business case to be made for W57. Ingels’s client is a pair of developers, including Douglas Durst, a sort of eco-hero in the baddie world of NYC real estate (his One Bryant Park was the first skyscraper in the U.S. to earn LEED Platinum certification), but he’s still a mucky muck — a guy who doesn’t mess around with half-baked ideas.

Ingels could’ve built him a big phallus of a tower. There are certainly plenty of ’em in the neighborhood. (See slide 11.) But then he would’ve ended up with some units that have neither a courtyard nor exquisite views, and that, in turn, would’ve diminished their real-estate value. In BIG’s vision, every unit is desirable. Danes call it a human right. New Yorkers call it a privilege. Developers call it more cash in their pockets. Perhaps this is BIG’s crowning achievement: to throw all three in the great American melting pot and stir.

[Images courtesy of BIG]


About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.