Erosion, by Herzog & de Meuron
The floor-to-ceiling height of the upper apartments in the tower that the Swiss architects Herzog & de Meuron have designed for New York is four meters. Four meters!
The architecture of high-rises has truly entered a new phase. The hunger for square meters has been displaced by an appetite for luxury. The only 7-star hotel in the world is a high-rise. The richest man of India is building his own high-rise house/office in Mumbai. And now New York builds a stack of lofts up to 253 meters.
The average American House that is build today is 2.5 times as big as the house that was build in 1950-ies. From that perspective it is only seems logical that the high-rise architecture would catch up. The current recession will probably only temporarily slow down this development. We just can’t escape our ever growing wealth.
In the design by Herzog & de Meuron for 560 Leonard Street the load-bearing structure is strategically absent in the façade. The round columns are placed where Le Corbusier put them: just off the wall. The effect is not so much that of weightlessness - the building still has a distinct, ‘heavy’ mass that firmly stands on the ground. No, combined with the hip displacement of the upper floors, the effect is that of the stack. A stack of 56 stories, to be precise.
I am tempted to write that we could consider the design to be an exhibit of the ‘vertical schism’ that Rem Koolhaas recognized in the early twentieth century skyscraper. That is only a small part of the design, I think. More importantly is that the stack as a whole has turned into a sculpture in which each floor in theory could shrink or grow, or even move. The only parameter that is fixed, apart from the floor-to-ceiling height and the inescapable glass facade, is the relation to the elevator core. After the ‘plan libre’, now there is the ‘free perimeter’.
On street level the tower starts as a rectangular block. Moving up first the corners are cut, then they are cut more, and finally towards the top the building is cut in any way possible. The floors are like layers of rock that have eroded under the influence of wind.
I realize that the design by Herzog & de Meuron is a literal materialization of the box-to-blob concept that UNStudio described at the end of the nineties. On the street the tower starts like a box and in the top it ends in ‘free form’. This is it!
The ‘erosion’ iconography is beautiful in its celebration of nature. There is however also something apocalyptic and frightening about the reference to decay. It reminds me of the sublime landscapes in romantic painting: beautiful, yet horribly desolate and uninhabitable.
Should we consider the ‘erosion’ iconography to be a reference to 9-11 or the many disaster movies that are situated in New York? Or, to take this speculation a little bit further, is there a chance that this design eventually will symbolize the crumbling American housing market. Will the tower start to further shrink during the design process? Will the metaphor of erosion become the design model for 2009, as it majestically integrates shrinking demands in the design. Can we finally start to see shrinkage as a virtue?
Related Herzog & de Meuron: Paris Pyramid, by Herzog & de Meuron; 1111, by Herzog & de Meuron; Graffiti, by Herzog & de Meuron; Water, by Herzog & de Meuron; Bird’s Nest, by Herzog & de Meuron 2; Vitra, by Herzog & de Meuron; Aalto Vase, by Herzog & de Meuron; Drops, by Herzog & de Meuron; Pyramid, by Herzog & de Meuron; Electric Spool, by Herzog & de Meuron; Bird’s Nest, by Herzog & de Meuron