Oct 30, 2007

Designing Lifestyle in 21st Century New York: Starchitect Condos

The early years of the 21st century have witnessed a number of brand-name architects (henceforth starchitects) designing condominium buildings in downtown Manhattan. While the physical living spaces are not significantly different to, say, 1980s New York luxury loft-style apartments, what has changed is the imaging, or perhaps more correctly, the total design of luxury lifestyles. In this sense of design, the physical buildings comprise but a minor part of the package – indeed, even before a sod of earth has been turned to dig foundations, architects, designers, developers and branding consultants have already created a image-world that includes not just the physical building and its interiors, amenities and furnishings, but also available services (from a 24 hour concierge desk to dog walking services), as well as highlights from the surrounding neighborhood. In short, designing a luxury condo involves the creation of an entire virtual lifestyle long before the actual glass and steel have arrived.

The imaging process that creates contemporary starchitect condos begins with the website. Here, potential consumers can see not only projected images of the finished building and its interiors, but also an entire image-world of the designer lifestyle, including a soundtrack, video clips and plenty of both real and constructed images featuring people inhabiting (or perhaps simply posing within) the spaces. These Flash-heavy websites often take some serious bandwidth to download – and the general rule seems to be, the more Flash the better. Such websites are, after all, as much about entertainment as they are about communicating information. If you don’t have a good broadband connection, this can mean spending a lot of time staring at increasing percentage numbers – but then again, if you can’t afford a decent broadband connection and the accompanying high-tech hardware, you’re hardly in the market for a luxury condo. Presumably all of this sophisticated imaging is required so that the physical glass and steel structure will have already acquired sufficient magical qualities before people part with their money: the luxury condo enters the world of myth before it exists in reality.

21st century New York is characterized by its reliance on two industries, finance and real estate, complemented by a few secondary industries, most notably the media sector (TV, film and publishing) and the cultural industry (galleries, museums, music, dance, theater, etc). It is in recent starchitect-designed condos that these various sectors of the city’s economy clearly intersect – high design (culture) meets brand name architect (a media construct) meets developer (real estate) meets big price tag (finance). Culture, particularly culture that has been already mediated and confirmed by institutions and publications (“architect featured at MoMA”, “designer of iconic museum”, “as featured in glossy coffetable books”, etc), seems a particularly important selling point for a New York lifestyle.

Jean Nouvel, 40 Mercer Street

Value-added living via design

Richard Meier might be credited as the pioneer of the recent wave of Manhattan starchitect-designed condos, and his designs certainly set the scene for more recent variations. His 173/175
Perry Street buildings, started in 1999 and completed in 2002, are typical modernist high-rise buildings with concrete service cores and a steel structure covered with floor to ceiling glass panels. Nothing particularly innovative architecturally speaking, the apartments are essentially elegant modernist glass boxes. However, Meier created a design vocabulary based on a minimalist, or “pure” form of modernism for a newly wealthy and design-saavy New York audience. And it must be a successful formula, as Meier has designed others since, most recently his On Prospect Park in Brooklyn (due to be finished soon). Meier has reconfigured modernism to equate it with luxury – here, transparent glass boxes function as both sources of views and conspicuous images of “designer” lifestyles, complete with lobbies prominently featuring Mies’s Barcelona chairs (presumably “authentic” versions? – see also my previous post). Finally, it is important that Meier’s Manhattan projects were sold as “designed by Richard Meier”, with the architect’s name becoming an essential branding device that adds to the luxurious appeal.

More recently, the floodgates have opened on the luxury condo market, with globally-branded starchitects now in on the act. My survey here covers recently completed and under-construction projects, all located in downtown Manhattan (and this is not a comprehensive list, simply the biggest names). These include:
40 Mercer Street and 100 11th Street by Jean Nouvel; Blue by Bernard Tschumi; 40 Bond Street by Herzog and de Meuron; 80 South Street by Santiago Calatrava; 166 Perry St by Asymptote; Yoo Downtown by Philippe Starck; The Urban Glass House by Philip Johnson (?) and Annabelle Seldorf; 1 Kenmare Square by Richard Gluckman; and 1 York Street by Enrique Norton (TEN Arquitectos). One thing all of these developments have in common is the cost – most of the apartments on offer start at around $2 million (studios or one bedroom) and go up (and up) from there.

A survey of the websites reveals many additional common features. While the exteriors generally assert their difference from the surrounding context (especially Tschumi’s
Blue, for example), the interiors follow Meier’s lead and reproduce minimalist downtown “loft”-like open plan spaces with high ceilings. These are not, of course, recycled industrial buildings as one might find in SoHo, but mimic the same interior aesthetic as 1980s lofts. The interiors all feature quality brand-name bathroom and kitchen fixtures and appliances, usually imported (read “European”) and some offer designer furniture options. In addition to private apartments, all condo buildings include some kind of recreational spaces – a gym or an indoor pool, and most feature a private lounge or bar. These, combined with the 24 hour concierge service desk which can arrange everything from grocery shopping to housekeeping, ensure that the owners’ designer life is almost self-contained within the building. The image is of effortless living with no domestic work necessary – a postindustrial Manhattan lifestyle that solves the old “servant problem” by outsourcing services – from grocery shopping to dry cleaning to cooking to dog walking. While Martha Stewart seems to have convinced middle America that domestic chores are fun (or at least that’s the fantasy she’s sold them), the really wealthy evidently haven’t bought this idea. In a designer lifestyle, domesticity is equated with drudgery that others can do, leaving more time to see and be seen.

A couple of further distinctive aspects of the websites worth commenting on are the music and the press page. Many of these websites feature music – it seems to be essential to create an aural ambience for a designer condo building – this is usually some kind of electronic ambient music, although Tschumi’s Blue, for example, features a short section of an old soul classic, “At last, the skies are blue…” by Etta James (I think?). Finally, and no less important, most designer condo websites feature a “press” page. The media publicity machine is already at work long before building has even started, with success measured in column inches and the number of feature articles (here design meets the media industry). Santiago Calatrava’s 80 South Street is the best example of this, with 18 articles collected on the website, that is, 18 articles about a proposed luxury condo building that hasn’t been built yet (and may never be built).

Bernard Tschumi, Blue, conspicious distinction

Buying a part of history

The most important aspect of starchitect-designed condos is that they have been designed by a famous architect. Calatrava’s 80 South Street, a speculative tower designed in 2003, features the following quotes on its website: “As featured in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York” and “own a part of architectural history”. The building is thus promoted as already part of the narrative of architectural history and already certified by a major museum as a significant cultural object, even though it doesn’t yet exist. And given the development comprises only 10 apartments starting from $29 million, it may never be economically viable. However, if it is never built, will it still be included in architectural history?

Meanwhile, The Urban Glass House certainly relies on a particular history of modernism in its promotion, making direct references to Philip Johnson’s original Glass House in Connecticut and suggesting that this new tower is destined to become a modernist classic in the same vein. The large billboard advertising the development in 2005 featured a split image, with half of Annabelle Seldorf’s face matched with half of Johnson’s face (Johnson’s half in black and white of course, to signify “history”). The tagline underneath read, “Modernist luxury as evolved”. PJ’s actual role in the design of The Urban Glass House is unclear to me, but my sense is that he simply lent his name to the project and Seldorf did the designing (though why, at his age, he would bother is indeed a mystery). Following Meier’s lead, modernism has continuing luxury appeal in Manhattan with The Urban Glass House and, as with the Calatrava development, buyers are not just buying a place to live, but a significant piece of architectural history.

While the language of modernism continues to appeal, Yoo Downtown by Philippe Starck, offers a slight variation on the starchitect-designed condo. Here, Starck has created a kind of postmodern gestamkunstwerk, designing not only the lobby area but also the pool, gym, theater and open-air terrace (“Starck Park”), in addition to providing a catalogue of furnishing options for the apartments. Starck’s best known projects in New York are a series of hotels designed for Mr Lifestyle himself, Ian Schreger, including the Royalton (1988), the Paramount (1990) and the Hudson (2000). With Yoo Downtown, Starck is extending his postmodern hotel aesthetic into spaces you can actually own. He has not only designed the public spaces, but is also presented as your personal interior design consultant, with four Starck furnishing options to choose from: Nature, Culture, Minimal or Classic. Each features a series of mix and match furniture and lighting choices from various designers (including Starck himself) so you can own your very own Philippe Starck-designed stage upon which to live out your designer fantasies.

Bernard Tschumi, Blue, billboard marketing designer interiors

But who are these fantasies designed for? Who needs a designer lifestyle anyway? A short essay on lifestyle from the website of Herzog and de Meuron’s, 40 Bond Street (developer Ian Schreger), provides some clues:

“Lifestyle is an expression of the life well lived. Lifestyle is the sum of our individual choices. It is the way we make our lives our very own. As old institutions fade and social structures fall away, the world is a smaller place. We are more mobile, jetting from one side of the world to the other, moving from one role in society to another. Nationality and class have been replaced by lifestyle. People find their place in the world through intelligence and taste. There are tribes of taste today. They recognize each other by their style. Lifestyle is the way a person distinguishes himself or herself. It is the artistry of living.”

Designer lifestyles are here equated with exclusivity and membership of a particular cosmopolitan class with good taste. However, only for an extremely small and select group of people has nationality been replaced by lifestyle – extensive passport controls at international airports and the erection of walls along the US-Mexican border suggest otherwise (imagine at a border crossing someone saying to the guards, “Hey, I’ve got lifestyle, let me in!”). Class, meanwhile, remains a key defining feature amongst of life in New York, and “lifestyle” and “taste” continue to be key determinants of class. The artistry of living, meanwhile, has been reduced here to consumption, as wealthy consumers are convinced to buy a lifestyle ready-made from famous designers. The “artistry of living” can be achieved without effort, creative input or even individuality, simply purchased as a prepackaged fantasy that seems like simply an up-scale version of Disney’s fantasy lifestyles on offer in Celebration, USA.

Finally, designer lifestyles, as presented in the image-world of the luxury condo, are centered around individual pleasures and individual consumption rather than any concept of community (where are you Jane Jacobs?). The surrounding neighborhood exists solely as a site of consumption, with the publicity material highlighting spaces such as cafes, restaurants and designer boutiques (rather than, say, public libraries, parks, schools or swimming pools). There is never any mention of interacting with the neighbors or participating in any kind of community life – the designer condo building is a sealed, exclusive enclave for a select “tribe of taste”.

But wait, there’s more

Pandiscio company, a contemporary “brand creation and marketing” company create what they call “branded addresses”, and currently represent 40 Mercer, The Urban Glass House and Cipriani Club Residences. It seems that luxury living is now in the hands of brand consultants as much as developers or architects. Incidently, Pandiscio are located, appropriately enough, in the Meatpacking District. Their latest gimmick is a series of handmade soft toys called Cuddle Me Condos. These include characterizations of luxury condo buildings, including 40 Mercer (above left) and The Urban Glass House (above right) as well as Cipriani Club Residences and One Kenmare Square.

Finally, for his 40 Mercer St condos, developer/hotelier Andre Balasz (he who bought the Maison Tropicale), commissioned a children’s book as part of the marketing program. “Jacques et Jill” is a charming tale of two chihuahuas who fall in love in Soho and watch the sun set from the glass balcony of 40 Mercer St’s penthouse suite. Of course, the irony is that while chihuahuas (at least quiet ones) might be tolerated at 40 Mercer St, children certainly do not feature in luxury condo ads. Indeed, 40 Mercer St’s publicity does not feature childcare or babysitting listed under the amenities and features no playroom for children – it’s quite clear that children are not part of the “adventurous, sophisticated lifestyle” portrayed at 40 Mercer St. But everyone knows that adventurous, sophisticated people love reading a good children’s book and cuddling up with a soft toy of their designer condo, especially right after they’ve visited their therapist.

Designing Designer Designs

So how is it possible to address the role of design in this imaging process? Is it still possible to separate the physical building from the associated branding and marketing? Or, is the physical building really significant without the imaging process? Does the contemporary architect simply provide a distinctive veneer on a fantasy developed by branding experts? Beyond the hype, it is important to note in conclusion that the starchitects involved in these condo projects have not substantially redefined urban living. There is certainly never any mention of the condo’s connection to society as a whole – the complete absence of the issues of sustainability or environmental design principles confirm that the designer lifestyle is not only a self-centered fantasy, but one that may prove to be ultimately socially and environmentally unsustainable.

Photos of Nouvel's 40 Mercer St and Tschumi's Blue by D.J. Huppatz


Sondra Fein, “
Condo Cool: Starchitect Branding and the Cost of “Effortless Living, or, Another Episode in the Continuing Quest for Social Status Through Design”, Harvard Design Magazine, Spring/Summer 2007. An excellent article about starchitect condos in Manhattan that I only just discovered when I was finished this entry. A must read.

An extensive list of luxury condo developments in Manhattan by Corcoran Sunshine Group


Julie V. Iovine, “Jack and Jill went up the private elevator”, New York Times, November 6, 2005. Includes a page from the children’s book for 40 Mercer St.

Oct 7, 2007

21st century Design Zone: the Meatpacking District

At the far west of West 14th Street, between the West Village and Chelsea, lies the Meatpacking District. This area of low-rise brick and iron industrial buildings around Gansevoort and Hudson streets, once the distribution center for New York’s meat industry, has recently been transformed into a designer zone. A strip of West 14th Street between 9th and 10th Aves entered the 21st century as one of New York’s hot spots of fashion and design, with a growing congregation of fashion boutiques, designer furniture stores, restaurants, bars and the looming threat of luxury condo towers. With its cobbled streets and occassional passing meat truck from diehard remainders of the meatpacking industry, West 14th Street now houses a collection of flagship stores of late 90s and early 21st century fashion stars such as Alexander McQueen, Stella McCartney, Diana von Furstenberg and Carlos Miele. Far from stuffy Madison Avenue or touristy Fifth Avenue, the Meatpacking District feels more exclusive because it is still somewhat isolated, although this seems to be changing fast. It is the new block for the new stars of global fashion, and who can resist the semantic slippage between meatpacking and fashion?

While the area became fashionable from the early 1990s, perhaps the first seeds of its designer future were sown with the opening of Restaurant
Florent in 1985. The restaurant opened in a transformed American diner on Ganesvoort Street when, apart from a few gay nightclubs, the Meatpacking District was still very much about packing meat. While Florent was famous for its opening hours (24/7), French bistro-style menu and celebrity clientele, it lives on in designer legend due to its innovative graphic identity and advertisements by Tibor Kalman’s M&Co. In retrospect, Florent’s graphic program looks like copybook mid-80s postmodernism. Menu designs, matchbooks and postcards (see below) featured images appropriated from Yellow Pages ads, line drawings culled from clip art catalogues or stock photography. The most memorable graphics, often reproduced in design anthologies, are a series of Florent advertisments in which Kalman appropriated a diner menu-board, complete with “amateur” improvised design which included “bad” spelling and grammar, letters dropping off the grid, and campy visual and verbal puns – in short, breaking all the rules of a stifling modernist aesthetic built on strict grids and the clear, rational communication of “information”.

The Meatpacking District has also made significant cameos on film. In Adrian Lyne’s anti-feminist classic of 1987, “Fatal Attraction”, the dangerous nature of the neighborhood provides a visual metaphor for Glenn Close’s psychotic character, Alex. In one memorable scene, she entered her pristine white loft via a dark, smoky alley with men hauling meat carcasses in the background. However, by the turn of the century, when “Sex in the City”’s Samantha moved to a loft in the Meatpacking District (Season 3, 2000), its cinematic allusions seemed to have shifted from evil to merely edgy – but Samantha still had to contend with the occasional burglar as well as the loud trannie prostitutes outside her window. When I was there recently, the cameras and film crews were all over West 14th Street, perhaps filming a fashion-friendly Olsen twins movie next?

Today, the Meatpacking District’s nouveau boutiques of designer consumption inhabit former working-class spaces of warehouses, meatworks and diners. New stores feature exteriors of aged raw bricks and iron columns, stripped to reveal various layers of paint – an aesthetic best characterized as retro-fitted industrial chic. In 2003, the area was designated the Ganesvoort Historic District, with Florent Morellet of Restaurant Florent involved in the campaign for its historic preservation. Beyond the historic veneer, there is little of the old working class sensibility left, as these former industrial spaces are redefined by brand names and images. Like a series of installations, each store is differentiated by unique interior design. No longer the 1990s of Madison Avenue minimalism, in the 21st century, the creation of a distinct identity via design and image is the key. In this sense, touring the Meatpacking District stores and bars is akin to touring the nearby congregation of Chelsea galleries, also in former industrial warehouses and factories – and the audience for both zones may well be the same. My focus here is to analyze the close conjunction of 21st century design and fashion in the Meatpacking District by looking at three examples – fashion designer Carlos Miele’s flagship store and the designer furniture stores Design Within Reach and Vitra – all conveniently situated only steps away from one another around West 14th Street.

Virtual fantasy-land: Carlos Miele

Brazilian designer Carlos Miele, based in Sao Paolo, made his global fashion breakthrough with a 2002 show in London, and in 2003, with the opening of his New York flagship store. The store was designed by rising New York-based starchitects, Aysmptote, whose principles are husband and wife Hani Rashid and Lise Anne Couture. Founded in 1989, the appropriately named Aysmptote built a reputation in their first decade via digital projects and temporary installations, but created little in the way of physical buildings. Installations focused on the application of digital technologies to architecture, and included a spot in the high-profile Venice Biennale in 2000. Their 1999
3D Virtual Trading Floor for the New York Stock Exchange raised the possibilities of architects working with virtual spaces (though I’ve read mixed reports about its practical success). More recently, high-profile commissions have begun to flow in from around the world – from Mexico to Korea, Malaysia to the Czech Republic – and even include another Carlos Miele store to open this year in Paris. As aspiring starchitects, Aysmptote are currently at work on a luxury condo building in downtown Manhattan, 166 Perry Street (apartments starting from $2 million).

With the Carlos Miele store, the crisp lines and sharp angles of 1990s minimalism seem to have melted into a fluid,
sculpted white cavern. The structural columns (originally iron columns, I presume) have been incorporated into the continuous sculptural surface that flows from ceiling to columns to floor (think: a Barbara Hepworth sculpture as an installation). Headless mannequins, clothed in Miele’s colorful dresses, seem to float in both the window display and within the space, hovering over embedded haloes of neon light in the floor. The restraint and blank walls of minimalist interiors are surpassed here, with a carefully constructed stage set for virtual fantasies – this is fashion framed and staged via architecture and image. The seamless space is at once suggestive of a pristine virtual world but also feels retro, in a 1960s sci-fi kind of way.

While fashion commentators often associate Miele’s clothes with stereotypical ideas about Latin sexiness, it’s hard to see anything sexy about the way his clothes have been framed here (unless Second Life avatars turn you on). Miele’s emphasis on colorful Brazilian fabrics and traditional production methods are also hard to envisage. But the sanitary, cavern-like space with sparsely hung with dresses certainly uses the language of contemporary fashion retail design, continuing minimalism’s equation between wasted space and luxury. It certainly feels like a self-consciously artificial space that creates the fantasy of an immersion into an uncontaminated virtual realm. The design certainly looks digital – as if it has been translated directly from AutoCad – but what’s interesting is that the surfaces are made from bent plywood, lacquered with high-gloss epoxy paint, hardly the latest technologically-advanced materials. In this sense, the interior is a digital skin made of conventional materials applied to an old-fashioned retail experience. Ultimately, the image of the digital world is the most important – a virtual fantasy-land – although ultimately it’s all created with wood and wires.

Finally, the mobile desk and chairs for staff towards the back of the store do ruin the effect somewhat, and return us abruptly from the digital realm to the retail realm (turning over a price tag can have the same effect). And despite my initial point about the importance of differentiation in 21st century retail design, a visit to former “bad boy” Alexander McQueen’s flagship store across the street reveals similar white organic molded forms and clothes displayed on similar floating mannequins. Perhaps the key to fashion retail design is different, but not too different.

Video of Carlos Miele store:

Store, Studio or Gallery: Design Within Reach and Vitra

The nearby furniture store Design Within Reach (
DWR) is part of a recent American design phenomenon. Founded in 1999, DWR began in San Francisco with the idea of a store that could sell difficult-to-find classic modernist furniture to American consumers. With 66 stores now open across the U.S., they must be onto something. Interestingly, the stores are not only located in major metropolises, but in wealthy resort towns such as East Hampton and Santa Barbara. Just as form follows function, modernism follows money. With a Barcelona Chair retailing at just under $4000, an Eames La Chaise for $8430 or a Le Corbusier L4 Chaise for just under $3000, the “Within Reach” part of Design Within Reach apparently refers to physical rather than economic reach. While classic modernist furniture stands as the ideal – Le Corbusier, Mies Van Der Rohe, Jean ProuvĂ© (a certified classic now with tables going for $4000) – postwar moderns such as Charles and Ray Eames, George Nelson and Verner Panton feature prominently too. However, cheaper furniture by contemporary designers such as Jasper Morrison and a host of less-known designers are also available (within reach after all?).

Design Within Reach stores are not, in fact stores, but studios. As well as suggesting a creative space that cleanses the store from mere consumerism, DWR’s studios are also supposed to serve as sources of information about design (see also their website which includes designer and furniture biographies). Inside the studio, you are surrounded not only by furniture, but by design discourse – large black and white photographs of the modernist masters, scattered quotes about design on walls and pillars by Mies, Eames, and even some contemporaries like Jasper Morrison. You are not just buying a chair, but an icon you’ve seen in a book by a certified famous designer, in short, you are buying a piece of history. And part of the DWR mission, intentional or not, seems to be an educational one – raising American consumer awareness about “good design”. On this point, with 66 stores all around the country, they may now be doing a better job of educating the public about “good design” than MoMA ever did.

The chairs and tables in DWR are not antiques, however, such as you might buy at Sotheby’s or Christie’s. DWR sell “fully licensed classics” – contemporary furniture “manufactured by the company holding the license to the original design” (Herman Miller, Knoll, Cassina, Fritz Hansen, Vitra, etc). So while an “original” Mies or Corbu chair made the 1920s might sell at auction for tens of thousands of dollars, DWR’s “authentic” Mies or Corbu chair made in the 21st century chair retails for only three or four thousand dollars. Not an “original”, nor a “copy”, but “authentic” – get it? While only your Hedge Fund manager can afford to buy an original Mies chair, here is the chance to buy an authentic version instead. By buying the “copy” cheaply online, what you really miss out on is the discourse of authenticity surrounding the DWR chair – the photos of the masters, the quotations, the biography, the analysis of materials and choice of colors – and of course, the chat with the friendly and knowledgeable salesperson (“studio assistant”?) about all of this.

Meanwhile, around the corner at Vitra, retailing designer furniture shifts ever more into the realm of the museum. The Vitra store is neither a “store” nor a “studio” but a “store + gallery”. The sparsely furnished gallery/retail spaces are on three levels with old iron columns and raw concrete steps that adopt the local retro-fitted industrial chic aesthetic. As a combination retail space/museum, it is compulsory to include a section for museum-like design books for sale (mainly monographs and Vitra Design Museum catalogues). The emphasis in the Vitra store is less on modernist classics and more on postwar and contemporary designs, though again, these are designs with a capital “D” and a capital “$”. The focus in this particular store when I was last there was on Verner Panton’s plastic furniture, though the Eames’s plywood furniture and Frank Gehry’s cardboard furniture also featured prominently. Originally designed by Gehry in the 1970s, his cardboard furniture has been recently reissued, which presumably has less to do with a return to 1970s lifestyles and more to do with Gehry’s celebrity status.

Both of these designer furniture stores perpetuate an image of design as the fetishization of luxury objects – iconic furniture with designer pricetags. Modernism has been narrowed to a brand rather than a complex set of ideas and practices that happened at particular places at particular times. The attempted shift from a retail store to a studio/gallery tries to blur the boundary between retail and museum spaces in a similar way that contemporary museums do by including prominent giftstores. Vitra takes this to logical endpoint with a design museum in Germany that features regular touring exhibitions and a steady flow of glossy catalogues. Thus Vitra control the manufacturing and retail business of design as well as its supporting discourse and imaging. Which means they can canonize design classics in the Vitra Museum, touring exhibitions and attendent publications, then sell you “authentic” versions retail. Thus buying your “authentic” classic becomes less about buying a 21st century mass produced chair (which it is) and more about buying an icon of “design history”. Furthermore, it is important to note the irony of modernist classics being so expensive – modernism is confirmed by both DWR and Vitra as a movement about luxury and exclusivity rather than a movement about affordable mass produced design for everyone. The positioning of design stores within the context of a nouveau fashion strip further cements the close connection by association between designer fashion, designer furniture, designer interiors and wealth. A final irony is that these stores also reinforce the idea of modernism’s timelessness and universality – modernism never went “out of fashion” – but here in the Meatpacking District, modernism is intimately linked to high fashion.

The Future is the Aestheticized Past

In the past few weeks, new street furniture has appeared around West 14th and Hudson Streets – large potted plants and blocks of stone (a suggestion of public seating, in New York!). Which suggests that the Meatpacking District is well and truly established as a destination worth beautifying. Alongside the designer fashion and furniture stores are a host of attendant bars, cafes and restaurants (and in this company old Florent comes out as pretty reasonably priced). The designer experience here is distinctly postmodern. Rather than the modernist tabula rasa, recycling is the vogue in the Meatpacking District, with retro-fitted fashion stores, Florent’s retro graphics program and DWR and Vitra’s reframing modernist design classics. The “next big thing” for the area is the reuse of a section of long-abandoned elevated railway line known as the High Line. Designs for the
High Line project have been completed by New York architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro – a further draw for the design-conscious flaneur and an elevated spot from which to survey the growing traffic.

Film crew on Hudson Street

All photos by D.J. Huppatz