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“Tower design traditionally focuses on the base and the top. For 15 Hudson Yards, we started with an interest in making something of the middle,” says Benjamin Gilmartin, partner at lead architect Diller Scofidio + Renfro, which designed  the tower in collaboration with lead interior architect Rockwell Group Located in Hudson Yards – New York’ largest new development since Rockefeller Center – and developed by real estate giant Related Companies, 15 Hudson Yards is the area’s first residential tower, and an atypical one at that.

Highlighting the building’s subtle transformation from the pervasive vertical block to a four-leaf clover with expansive views of New York City, Gilmartin continues: “The morph begins at the tower's midpoint, expressing the floors where we've located the shared amenities.” So, this is where the story begins. Not at the start, not at the end – though both have their own merits – but in the middle of the tower, where square becomes quadrant and private becomes public.

Spanning the 50th and 51st floors and spread across 40,000 square feet, the amenities are at the very heart of the building’s offering. “Normally developers put amenities on the lower level in the basement. Here the idea was to give everybody great views and make it a place people want to spend time in,” says Rockwell Group partner Greg Keffer, as we emerge from the elevator onto the leisure and entertainment floor.

Stepping into the first communal lounge, I’m greeted with the misty cityscape of Lower Manhattan and New Jersey, framed between two smooth white columns. Inside, a porcelain and brass ceiling pendant by Apparatus hangs above a natural palette where earthy tones brush shoulders with dark touches. Black partition screens gently envelop the space while a quartet of brown leather armchairs, silver-grey oak flooring and a rug by Fort Street Studios give the space a homier appeal.

Throughout, the look is “curated, but simple,” as Keffer says. “Craft is really important, so you feel the detailing, the loop of the leather. You understand it’s not made by a machine.” As we move through the floor, this attention to craft becomes apparent on all available surfaces. There is Portuguese ribbed stone and French limestone that’s been raked on-situ for texture. There’s leather along the corridor walls and black walnut slats in the golf simulator room. The dining room features a backlit, recessed ceiling dome with stunning plasterwork while the chef’s kitchen boasts a black marble counter from Spain. As Keffer says, half-jokingly, “there are no painted walls in this project.”

And while the 51st floor is dedicated to leisure, the level below is geared towards wellness – and you can smell it. That unmistakable spa scent permeates throughout the sauna and white marble-clad steam rooms, culminating in a 75-foot-long swimming pool occupying the northwestern edge of the tower.


The first characteristic to stand out, perhaps even before the commanding views all around, is the linearity of the space. Spanning the width of the building, the pool’s geometry is emphasised by its interior tile mosaic, courtesy of Bisazza. Meanwhile, the glossy white ceiling above is striated by lights running perpendicular to the pool. Where Rockwell Group has truly hit the spot though, is in the way it has defined the shower and hot tub areas.


Running parallel to the pool, two custom sculptural rings arching overhead gently define a shower area so inscribed into the wall it would otherwise be nearly invisible. The shape of the circle also adds softness to the linearity of the space, further cushioned by the use of vegetation and French antique limestone decking by Walker & Zanger.


Walking back via a series of private treatment rooms and into the Wright Fit-designed fitness centre overlooking Midtown and beyond, Keffer says: “This is about escaping from the craziness out there, let it be your home,” and for a second, I can almost imagine myself lifting weights to that view. Then I remember – with homes ranging from $3.9 million for a two-bedroom to $32 million for the duplex penthouse – this is a residence for the privileged by virtue of its location alone.


That said, it isn’t easy designing for the wealthy. As Keffer explains, appealing to that kind of crowd had its challenges. “How do you define luxury for that broad of an audience?” he asks. “How do you still make it liveable?” The answer, according to him, is choosing materiality over fashion: “The carving, the stone, no matter what your style is, you can see there’s value in that.”


As we tour some of the new model residences above (one is by design duo Carrier and the other, by French brand Christian Liaigre), I can’t help but wonder what kinds of souls will be treading these wooden floors. But for now, the look swings between homey (Carrier) and modern (Liaigre) – a purposefully balanced contrast perhaps best embodied all the way back down in the lobby.


David Rockwell, founder and President of Rockwell Group, comments: “We approached this project with one very simple goal: given the building’s linkage between the plaza, The Shed, and the High Line, we wanted to transition residents and visitors from more public experiences to more private ones. [...] We wanted to give residents the chance to release the clatter of the outside world as they make their way home."


To achieve this transition, Rockwell Group created a narrative where the lobby’s modern vibe is infused with residential elements through a medley of public spaces. Though the budget would have likely allowed for a splurge on a grand chandelier centrepiece, the lighting is humble and even. Rockwell Group’s resin and metal arrival screens are a clever tool to ease people into the lobby and the translucent smoky pattern within is an absolute delight. The Joel Shapiro art sculpture further in is rather poetically anchored by a black reflection pool underneath it. And, in the words of Rockwell, the Italian travertine and French limestone on the walls help “introduce a language of carving and engraving that permeates the tower’s interior details”.


With such abundance of craft and art, 15 Hudson Yards presents itself as a worthy neighbour of New York’s newest arts centre: The Shed. Featuring a wide range of performance, music, visual art and multi-disciplinary venues, and sitting on public land, The Shed was not only designed by the same team as 15 Hudson Yards, it also shares the building’s lower levels. In fact, both teams began collaborating on The Shed in 2008, in response to a request for proposal, and started work on 15 Hudson Yards five years later. Today, The Shed’s back of house is nestled in the residential tower – something of an ingenious tool that allowed for most of The Shed’s base building to be devoted to its raison d’être, the arts.    


As I leave the building past Heatherwick’s empty Vessel dripping in the driving rain, I realise that Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Rockwell Group could’ve designed yet another flashy residential tower with an extravagant silhouette and glitzy interiors. Instead, with its nuanced architecture and textured interiors, 15 Hudson Yards sets itself apart from its specious surroundings (save The Shed, of course).

The original article appeared in Blueprint June Issue #364

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