Karrie Jacobs


May 15, 2009

From the Extraordinary to the Ordinary, Part 1*

HL23 by Neil Denari

On Wednesday I took advantage of the sunny, season-appropriate weather and went gallery hopping in Chelsea with my sister. Highly recommended: the Yayoi Kusama show at Gagosian. Kusama’s recent paintings are op-art masterpieces. The word “hallucinatory” gets used a lot, but here I think it’s literally true. It’s not just that Kusama’s worldview is exceptionally dotty; she’s able to make her audience see dots, even after they’ve left the gallery.

Afterward, I found myself standing on the bus stop at the corner of 23rd and Tenth and noticed that Neil Denari’s HL23, a luxury apartment tower that swells up from a small footprint to hover over the High Line, is almost fully framed. While the whole idea of starchitecture for the infinitely wealthy is even less viable today than it was a year ago, and there are a number of such projects that deserve to die, I’m rooting for this one. I’m glad that Denari, who has spent most of his career as a theorist and built next to nothing, has this opportunity. And it’s only along the path of the High Line that there’s the space in Manhattan for an architect so cerebral. In truth, it’s a peculiar building, kind of an upside-down wedding cake, that can perhaps be read as a psychological stand-in for Albert Ledner’s soon-to-be-demolished “overbite” building.

Lately there’s been some discussion about the age of extreme architectural form being over. My sense is that it’s just transitioning from the cutting edge to the mainstream, from extreme to ordinary. I see the blocks surrounding surrounding the High Line as the perfect showcase of the transitional moment. As Park Avenue was in the very early 1960s, when glass office towers were still novel, the High Line district is today. On a recent preview walk of the High Line’s southern end (scheduled to open in June), I was excited by the views of the Manhattan that is forming around the new park. When it finally opens in June, the High Line will be the perfect vantage point to watch one architectural moment play itself out and another begin.

The High Line skyline: Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, Shigeru Ban, and Annabelle Selldorf.

*Part 2 will be in my July America column for Metropolis.