Carlos Zapata’s Pope Hat Building was one of the wackiest designs we’ve seen around these parts—in a historic district, no less—so it was with some sadness that we watched the plans for it slowly fizzle out over the years. But the site’s new owner of the 39-41 West 23rd Street, Anbau Enterprises, who purchased it in 2010 for $18.5 million, still intends to build condos there, and luckily for us and everyone else who loves a good crazy building, they have retained the services of COOKFOX Architects for the redesign.
COOKFOX’s new designs are less wacky than Zapata’s Pope Hat, but still plenty wacky in their own right, featuring a base that rises up, stops, sets back, rotates 90 degrees, and continues up with a large cantilevered section, making the entire building look like two three-dimensional puzzle pieces, or perhaps a building wearing another building on its head. Unlike, the Pope Hat, however, which had a “curvilinear, sculptural form enclosed in a glass skin,” the new form will be “more structural and rectilinear,” which the architects felt to be more appropriate for the district. The façade includes elements of terracotta, limestone, granite, percolated glass, and zinc, and COOKFOX’s signature green planted terraces. The developers and architects are also attaching to a project a much more traditional restoration of a building at 35 West 23rd Street, possibly as an attempt to quell the furor over proposing such a distinct, modern building in a historic district.
The Commissioners, for the most part, were happy to see the Pope Hat replaced—to hear them tell it now, they had never liked that design in the first place, although the building was approved at one point. They were, however, not even close to coming to an agreement on the appropriateness of the new design. Some Commissioners found the plans approvable as they were, while others found that they had fundamental philosophical issues with the approach COOKFOX took to the designs. The harshest criticism came from commissioner Michael Devonshire, who “[found] the cantilever to be a self-conscious, distractive, architectural gimmick.” Commissioner Elizabeth Ryan called the designs “not contextual,” and, although she didn’t hate the cantilever, didn’t think that the Ladies Mile Historic District is the place for it. Commissioner Fred Bland, on the other hand, called the building “extremely contextual,” and “beautiful,” and commissioner Michael Goldblum remarked: “I find myself seduced and then I wonder if I should be.”
Having received a number of mixed messages from the Commission, Rick Cook and team will have to pick and choose from the criticism and make some changes before returned to the LPC at a later date.