By Brian J. Pape, AIA, Architecture Editor
The busy southeast corner of Eighth Avenue and West 14th Street will get a substantial improvement over the previous two-story “taxpayer.” Surprisingly, the 120-foot-tall structure has shrunk two floors and 7,000 square feet from earlier designs submitted by Gene Kaufman Architect, P.C. (GKA).
Seventy-six Eighth Avenue, in this rendering posted onsite, will contain just 30,000 square feet of commercial space, both office space above and ground-floor retail. Since this location is so transit-accessible, with the A, C, E and L subways’ 14th Street stops there, and the 1-2-3 station just one avenue east, the building’s 10-story size seems limited relative to the location’s potential. Being a few blocks east of the Meatpacking District, and abutting the Greenwich Village Historic District northern boundary, the allowable floor area ratio (FAR) for this 14th Street corridor must have frustrated GKA and Sang Lee, the developer, since wide city streets usually get more generous FAR.
Nevertheless, the new design reflects the industrial aspects of the neighborhood, respect for the street wall (no recess), and the lively retail pedestrian activity. The distinguished exterior features dark metallic cross-bracing over some of the windows on the northern elevation and on the smaller western facade. A setback at the sixth-floor ceiling creates a terrace before continuing the facade treatment up to the 10th floor, and there’s a rooftop terrace framing the glass railings at the perimeters. The roof seems to match the neighbor’s height behind, including various bulkheads for mechanical, elevator and stairs.
GKA was founded in 1986 in New York City. When Charles Gwathmey died in 2007, Robert Siegel, FAIA, must have looked for a way to continue without his partner. The Great Recession of 2008-2010 soon created a dark time for many architects struggling to find clients; many firms closed. Kaufman, as a reliable developers’ architect, had the means to buy into the prestigious firm, so in 2011 Gene Kaufman and Gwathmey Siegel Architects joined forces, creating Gwathmey Siegel Kaufman & Associates Architects (GSKA), with Kaufman as a principal and with GSKA as an affiliate firm to GKA. The mergees struck professional colleagues as strange bedfellows at the time, but the strategy seems logical. The GKA website focuses on the hotel and multifamily blocks it is known for, while the GSKA website features more glamorous buildings from across the nation. Some of the GSKA projects are from the founding of Gwathmey Siegel Architects in 1968, such as the addition to Frank Lloyd Wright’s Guggenheim Museum on Fifth Avenue, the Astor Place Condo tower and many palatial homes in New York and California.
We have gotten so used to seeing GKA-designed hotels and apartments as “background” buildings, though sometimes standing much taller than their neighbors, that this project’s effort seems to be a step above those, and perhaps we can expect more interesting designs from GKA for future projects.
Brian J. Pape is a LEED-AP “Green” Architect consulting in private practice, serves on the Manhattan District 2 Community Board, and is Co-chair of the American Institute of Architects NY Design for Aging Committee.