Eagle + West, Greenpoint’s Upside-Down Building

Eagle + West, on the Greenpoint waterfront.
Photo: Jason O’Rear

For decades, two armies of skyscrapers have executed a slow-motion pincer movement along the East River, marching south of Long Island City and north of Williamsburg. They finally met at Greenpoint Landing. This shoreline swell still looks relatively sparse, so new rental apartments called Eagle + West stand out against the horizon. Seen from afar, or in a schematic 3D model, they look like interlocking Lego pieces, the overhangs of one fitting snugly into the reverses of the other to form a seamless slab . Designed by OMA and built by Brookfield, they lay claim to the lofty design of this stretch of shore: not just another roasted glass well or two, but an unmistakable concrete revetment cromlech.

The layout of a 30-storey building and a 40-storey building, connected by a low-rise connector, seems to be a fairly pleasant place to live, with 745 apartments, almost a third of which are rent-regulated, a extensive menu of amenities that includes two swimming pools (one indoor, one outdoor) and a row of garden units backing onto a wide public esplanade. A grid of large square windows frames unblockable wide-angle views of Manhattan (as well as more tentative, gritty views of the Brooklyn Highlands). Precast concrete shingles facing in different directions texture the facades like corduroy. As economy-sized beachfront developments go, this one is high on comfort and drama (though it’s a hike to the metro). To achieve this, however, the OMA team, led by Jason Long, put together a handful of familiar ideas in a form that was more clunky than new.

Eagle + West is a unique complex named after an intersection, but its two towers form a pair. They pull apart just enough for you to feel the magnetic pull. Where one steps back, the other leans forward, maintaining a taut but chaste 60-foot gap. The triangular projections (and corresponding recesses) point in alternating directions so that the choreographed balance reads like a synchronized shimmy. In their physical relationship, OMA’s partners recall the small Fred and ginger in Prague, where one wing controls the hip of the other. Closer, just across the East River from Greenpoint, is another swinging couple: the meandering SHoP American copper towers, connected by a skybridge that stretches from height to height. But where Gehry’s Prague project is a showcase of whirlwind and delight and American Copper has a certain burly grace, Eagle + West looks stiff and galloping, like people who’ve heard of the dance but don’t. have never tried it themselves.

Photo: Ossip van Duivenbode

The stack of misaligned boxes has become a popular form of mild rebellion against the base block and tree. Sanaa executed it with a formal flair in her design for the new museum. ODA, a suddenly ubiquitous supplier of condos in New York (and unrelated to OMA), turned the trick into home style. For the extrovert of the two Greenpointers, the architects stacked seven- and eight-story trapezoidal prisms in ascending order of size, so the whole arrangement looks unbalanced and heavy. Even the low rise part looks precarious; the glazed box that contains the gym seems suspended in the air, pinched between adjacent masses.

When the new museum opened in 2007, OMA designed a graceful cantilever bouquet for a site one block south of Madison Square. The recession dropped this project on the list of New York landmarks ever built, which is a shame because it represented an apotheosis of its kind: the inverted tower. Spinning above a narrow site, it widened at the waist and tapered at the top, progressing through a series of protruding and receding movements to produce a few glass-bottomed pieces (at least in theory) and matching balconies. This mirror design worked because it was small enough to be playful and because, tucked into the Manhattan pincushion, it looked like a drunken twist on a century-old convention, the kind of thing that might elicit a smile. surprised on a walk around the neighborhood. The lateral offset also had site-specific logic, allowing the building to catch views by leaning past One Madison by CetraRuddy like a theatergoer leaning around a giant in the next row.

Brooklyn’s much more massive new development doesn’t fit into its neighborhood so much as it dominates the headland and spreads its virtuosity. This look, mom, no gravity! The trick is to hang the slabs from Vierendeel trusses large enough to handle truck traffic and transfer loads with huge angled steel columns. The easiest way to figure out why is to hold a laptop at arm’s length: it only takes a few minutes before your shoulders, back, and thighs start to hurt. If you were a structural frame grabbing an overhang, those pain points would indicate the need for a stronger core: more concrete, more steel, more money.

The beauty of the cantilever is that it feels both powerful and implausible, an obviously heavy mass appearing to levitate. It also creates space under its soil, casting shade, extending shelter, and providing cover for an assortment of activities. At worst, going under it can feel like a crouch like a freeway overpass; at its best, it leaves the downstairs feeling spacious and open.

Supporting a horizontal piece of steel at one end and letting the other protrude out of thin air is a kind of well-worn magic. In the 1963 Mexico City Museum of Anthropology, by Pedro Ramirez Vázquez, a single column, apparently made of water, supports a huge large concrete canopy above the entrance courtyard. A similar technique has been deployed for offer views of the Alps, cross the rivers, defy the earthquakes in Malibuand Adjacent Towers Bridge in Dubai. Steven Holl used the technique to flipping a skyscraper on its side in China and create a long, continuous shape that hovers above the ground. Over the past few decades, architects have used extreme engineering to break out of the confines of concrete and make their buildings (literally) larger. At 56 Leonard de Herzog et de Meuron, the upper floors seem to run away, each heading off in a different direction. This business is cantilevered: it has stacked longhouses across like pick-up sticks at Vitra House in Basel, Switzerland, and did something similar with office slabs at Actelion business center on the other side of town. New York has rules to protect us from this kind of exuberance, but even in this city’s restrictive environment, Diller Scofidio + Renfro managed to fool Alice Tully Hall and Juilliard with a more restrained version of the monstrous canopy than he installed at Boston Institute of Contemporary Art.

In New York, the cantilever as spectacle meets the cantilever as deception. Developers appreciate the ability to spend less on the land and hoist as much square footage as possible where the views (and the money) are. A mushroom-like spread has become a common way to deal with zoning restrictions, meander around a protected landmark, or take advantage of previously unusable aerial terrain.

The Acterlion business center, by Herzog & de Meuron.

Unbuilt OMA 23 East 22nd Street.

From left to right : The Acterlion business center, by Herzog & de Meuron. Photo: Michael Buholzer/AFP via Getty ImagesUnbuilt OMA 23 East 22nd Street. Graphic: Rendered by OMA

From above: The Acterlion business center, by Herzog & de Meuron. Photo: Michael Buholzer/AFP via Getty ImagesUnbuilt OMA 23 East 22nd Street. Chart…
From above: The Acterlion business center, by Herzog & de Meuron. Photo: Michael Buholzer/AFP via Getty ImagesUnbuilt OMA 23 East 22nd Street. Graphic: Rendered by OMA

It all hinges on the typical, but not unique, New York maneuver of transferring air rights. Say you own a 100,000 square foot building that the law could expand by another 50,000 square feet. It’s not practical to put up a new addition on the roof or to tear everything down and start from scratch, but you can sell the right to build this volume to someone who actually will. Those extra square feet can yield a few more stories next door, or, in areas where height is capped, new construction can instead expand outward, pushing on or around an existing structure like a tree root. tenacious tree gripping a rocky cliff. Lately, this move has become a trend, with shaded overhangs proliferating throughout the city. ODA recently completed a rather OMA-ish apartment building on the Upper West Side, the Westly, which flies north as it rises. A few blocks away in downtown, Thomas Juul-Hansen’s 2551 Broadway leans over a small, one-story McDonald’s as if to inhale the smell of bubbling oil.

Long, OMA’s design team leader on Eagle + West, insists that multiple overhangs have nothing to do with zoning or financial considerations: they’re there to sculpt the form, order a site and optimize views. But in real estate, it’s never easy to separate art from what it costs or what will pay off. Greenpoint’s new architectural “it” couple meet at the intersection of flamboyance and calculation.

Photo: Jason O’Rear

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