This Skeleton-Inspired Building Brings A Little Gaudí To NYC

The residential building is a mashup of SoHo’s classic cast-iron facades and the biomorphic genius of the Catalan architect.

It’s common for architects to talk compare buildings to bodies–bones stand in for framing, skin for cladding, and nerve center for the mechanical system. But XOCO 325, a new condo in SoHo by the New York–based real estate, design, and development company DDG literally looks skeletal–and it’s morbidly magnificent.


Referencing human bones in design isn’t new. Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí (1852–1926)–whose buildings look like they were pulled straight from an LSD-fueled fever dream–often nod to osseous forms. Casa Batllò, one of his wildest designs from around 1904, is clad with ceramic mosaics, has an undulating roofline that looks like the ridged back of some fantastical sea creature, and balconies that look like skulls. More recently, architect Santiago Calatrava has made a name for himself through designs that look a lot like fish skeletons.

“It balances modernity with the historic,” Joseph A. McMillan, Jr., CEO of DDG, says of XOCO 325’s structure whose warm-gray facade looks like it’s composed of hundreds of bones and knuckles. “What we have here is very referential to Gaudí, but distinct in materiality.”

The building is in SoHo, which is famous for its cast-iron facades–an industrial fabrication technique popular in the 1800s that made classical architectural flourishes, like columns and cornices, cheaper to produce. To pay homage to the 19th-century style, but coax it into the 21st, the architects looked to aluminum. The metal looks like cast iron, but is much lighter and easier to handle. “It hearkens back to the old but it’s much more malleable,” McMillan Jr. says.

[credit[Photo: Robert Granoff]

To fabricate the components–some of which are over nine feet tall–DDG enlisted a foundry in Walla Walla, Washington, that big-name artists like Jeff Koons, Maya Lin, Matthew Barney, and Kiki Smith entrusted to produce their work. While the foundry was no stranger to technical complexity, the shear volume was a challenge since the foundry mostly produces smaller runs and one-offs–and DDG required 352 individually cast components. Moreover, achieving the textured “burlap” finish that gives the facade subtle shadows and gradations added a layer of difficulty. The builders then assembled the pre-fabricated components, which are mounted flush with the building’s glass curtain wall.

Elsewhere in the structure, there are other nods to the organic world–like the carved wood front door, natural stone finishes in the units, and floors milled from wood grown by Benedictine monks in Austria. While the developers hope this sensibility makes the building more exciting and livable for its residents, it’s also a strategy to stay a step ahead in NYC’s competitive real estate market. “All of our buildings have a strong opinion,” McMillan Jr. says. “The organic nature of the entire form makes the building successful and better design makes for better business.”

[All Photos (unless otherwise noted): BruceDamonte]


About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.