On Friday, as we completed the last stretch of the sprint to the end of term, we did a little victory lap, so to speak, of our neighbourhood before finally disbanding for the summer. Moseying down to the Highline, we stopped en route for some grub to fulfill the cravings of the last two week, during which very little other than coffee and (urgh) candy was consumed as the hours of manic production consumed our days, and sadly, nights as well. Walking uptown for a few blocks, we took a short detour to check out some of Chelsea’s best and brightest building’s twinkling in the gorgeous indigo sunset sky. Our first stop was Frank Gehry’s curvaceous, kinetic creation of glazing and cream on 550 West 18th Street. With its apparently seamless, sloping sculptural surfaces, the AIC building adds a dash of Gehry’s characteristic LA sparkle to New York. Its form is reminiscent of a gleaming white boat with its sails rippling softly in the breeze blowing in from the Hudson. As we walked towards it, we stopped to admire the frit patterns that fade in and out at the top and bottom of each panel of glass to allow the vision glazing to meet the spandrel below it in a much subtler fashion than that seen in most horizontally coursed, curtain wall buildings.
Next, we stopped by to peer into Shigeru Ban’s “Shutter Houses” – a 9-unit condominium building adjacent to the AIC building, which is famed for its dynamic mobile façade featuring a perforated metal shutter system that lets residence open and close their spaces according to their fancy. The eleven-storey block contains eight duplexes with balconies looking out onto the street. The individual perforated motorized shutters slip down over each balcony to shield the facades of the double-height apartments behind them allowing the building to have a kind of a removable skin. Its mobile façade of 2 storey shutters give it a different look and feel at different times of the day as these shutters are operated by the owners of the duplexes who have the privilege of living there. Peering into the building and watching the glow from an aquarium in one apartment, and a couple eating their dinner in another, we noticed the other shutters in the building were down, suggesting that the residents of the other apartments were out. Hence, it was interesting to note that the shutters create a façade that creates a trace of the patterns of inhabitation which the building is subject to at different times of the day.
Finally, we walked over to the High Line, watching it come to life as New Yorker’s filed in after work on a balmy summer evening to kick off their weekends. With views of the Hudson to the West, and the city to the East, the High Line is celebrated for the fact that it reclaimed and restored a section of the former elevated New York Central Railroad called the West Side Line into a linear park. As we traversed this aerial greenway, walking towards Gansevoort street, we stopped to take in the startlingly unexpected vistas that the High Line provides of the city – allowing it to be perceived at a mid-level height. The project’s planters, inspired by the wild grasses that used to grow on the disused tracks, were in full bloom, rustling softly in the breeze, interspersed with remnants of rail tracks – calling to mind the area’s former program. In fact, it’s interesting that all over the Village, Chelsea and the Meatpacking districts, one can find sites that deliberately hint at programs that used to exist on these sites before these areas were repurposed. For instance, some of the luxury boutiques that we spotted in Chelsea featured clothes hanging on hooks which were reminiscent of the hooks that were used when meat was hung from the meatpacking stores in this district. The High Line of course, with its constant referencing of rail tracks, continues this tradition of referencing the history and the context of the neighborhood it is situated in.
Back on the High Line, as we arrived at the steps close to 14th street, we listened in as a group of New Yorker’s held a community gathering and as we moved on, we found ourselves staring at the façade of the Standard Hotel, peering in voyeuristically to see evidence of the exhibitionism that the building and its guests have become infamous for! As we reached the end of the tracks, we thanked Bob Balder, the Executive Director, of our program for an incredible semester, and for taking the time to show us around this incredible city – our only regret being that we didn’t get to spend more time here!