Perry & Charles Street
Richard Meier | New York, USA | 2002-2006
Image of Perry & ...
Hudson Waterfront

ProjectPerry & Charles Street
ArchitectRichard Meier
CityNew York
Address173-176 Perry St. / 165 Charles St.
Building TypeTower
Number of Dwellings60
Date Built2002-2006
Dwelling Typesstudio, 1,2,3 BR flats; duplexes, triplexes
No. Floors15
Section Typeflats, duplexs & triplexes
Exterior Finish
concrete, metal panels, glass curtain wall, stone
Construction TypeRC frame
Ancillary Servicesshops at grade, common swimming pool, screening room, & gym

The Hudson Waterfront

By the end of the 19th century, the western edge of Manhattan Island along the Hudson River waterfront between 59th Street and the Battery was an intensively developed industrial zone of factories, warehouses, and piers. The West Side Line of the Hudson River Railroad had been extended along the waterfront in 1849 resulting in heavy congestion, cross traffic, and accidents. As a result, plans were begun by the beginning of the 20th century, to build an elevated highway along the Hudson waterfront. Called the West Side Highway and built between 1929 and 1951, this 4-lane elevated structure was one of the first elevated highways in the US. Built at a time when there were few design standards, it was very narrow and limited by sharp curves and exit ramps so that it couldn't accommodate trucks, greatly restricting its use. Over the years deterioration caused by the use of salt to de-ice the roadway and the lack of proper maintenance resulted in the collapse of a section of the highway in 1973 and its subsequent closing. Because of the $ 88 million cost, the New York City Dept. of Transportation decided to divert traffic to temporary routes rather than repairing the old structure.

By 1971, plans were underway for a new freeway and transit way, and the development of 700 acres of land to be built on piles in the Hudson. Known as "Westway". The new project had the political support of Governor Nelson Rockefeller, Mayor John Lindsay and the chair of the Planning Commission John Zuccotti but, there was widespread opposition based on environmental, traffic, and cost issues. The opposition to Westway was lead by Hugh Carey a congressman who was running for Governor and Edward Koch the congressman from Greenwich Village who would later become the mayor. After several years of citizens' meetings, environmental studies, and design proposals, Judge Thomas Griesa of the U.S. District court stopped work on the project and held that the final proposal by the Army Corps of Engineers did not consider the impact of landfill on the population of striped bass in the Hudson River and he refused to allow construction to begin. Four years later, even though $1.7 billion in federal highway funds had been allocated in 1985 to build Westway, the City decided to abandon the project altogether. Funds were shifted to improving mass transit and to the development of the West Side Highway Replacement project to create a new park along the river.

At the end of the 1960's, the once prosperous district of maritime industries and activities along the west edge of Manhattan had become a zone of dilapidated and vacant buildings, abandoned rail lines, and empty piers. The dense industrial district along the Hudson was now an area in transition. Communities like Chelsea, West Village, Greenwich Village and Tribeca that had been isolated from the waterfront by a dense layer of industrial buildings and piers were now waterfront sites with spectacular views.

By 1986, plans were underway to transform the West Side into a "Greenway", with a continuous landscaped park along the water. West Street along the waterfront completed in 2001, was turned into a 6-lane boulevard with a landscaped median, a bicycle path, landscaped piers and other pedestrian spaces and amenities. This was to be part of the Manhattan Waterfront Greenway, a continuous landscaped park 32 miles long to be built around the perimeter of Manhattan Island, connecting to other public spaces, buildings, and recreational activities creating the longest bikeway in the US.

The transition from an industrial zone to a waterfront park presented new development opportunities. In 1968, the Battery Park City Authority was formed by the state to create a mixed-use project designed by the architect Wallace Harrison for land previously occupied by piers. The Authority was a public-benefit agency where profits were used to create housing and public facilities. Battery Park City houses about 10,000 residents, includes 9.3 million square feet of commercial space including theaters, a public high school, a large hotel, and a branch public library in addition to 36 acres of open space in lower Manhattan. Most west side housing projects built since the 1980's, are small-scale developments, the adaptive re-use of industrial buildings, infill projects, individual buildings on corner sites, and other buildings permitted under the City's zoning regulations. Recent examples of buildings that fit this genre with views of the Hudson River include Richard Meier's three waterfront towers in the West Village (2002-06), the infill conversion of an old warehouse on Greenwich Street in Tribeca by Archi-tectonics (Winka Dubbeldam) (2004), the short, narrow tower along the High Line in Chelsea by Neil Denari (2011), and the 23 story corner tower at 100 Eleventh Ave. and 19th St. also in Chelsea by Jean Nouvel (2010). These buildings also reflect a real estate trend on the West Side to use the names of well-known architects to promote high-end speculative residential development as a marketing strategy. These buildings demonstrate the use of advanced building technologies in the design and especially the construction of exterior glass walls. All of these buildings enjoy views of the Hudson waterfront and have access to the amenities offered by the proximity to the Manhattan Greenway park system along the Hudson waterfront.

The High Line

An important feature of the renaissance of Manhattan's West Side was the recycling of an abandoned elevated railway called the High Line, that ran along the west side of Manhattan. The High Line is three stories high and mile and one half long and meanders along the West Side from Gansevoort Street in Greenwich to the rail yards just south of the Javits Convention Center in Chelsea. In 1847, The City of New York authorized the use of street-level trains in Manhattan's West Side to serve the factories and warehouses along the Hudson River. In 1869, Cornelius Vanderbilt formed the New York Central and Hudson River Railroad Company. By the turn of the century, however, rail traffic was causing so much congestion and there were so many accidents that parts of Tenth, Eleventh, and Twelfth Streets were declared "Death Avenue". As a consequence, in 1924, the City Transit Commission ordered the removal of all at-grade crossings.

In 1927, the railroad proposed the construction of an elevated line from Canal Street, north to the Thirtieth Street Yard. Construction of the steel structure was begun n 1931 and the line officially opened in 1934. After nearly 30 years of use, service on the southern section of the High Line was halted in 1960, the result of declining use because of the increase in freight truck traffic. The federal government formed Conrail in 1976 from the consolidation of several rail carriers and the last train ran down the High Line in the 1980's. Three years later Conrail took legal steps to divest itself of the High Line and the same year Congress passed the National Trails System Act that allowed abandoned rail lines to be banked for future use as pedestrian and bike trails.

In 1999, Joshua David and Robert Hammond, residents of the neighborhood that the High Line passed through, formed a non-profit, Friends of the High Line, dedicated to preserving the railway. The idea was to keep the line and convert it into an elevated landscaped park and pedestrian promenade. In 2004, the city committed $50 million to the project modeled after a similar park in Paris, the Promenade Plantée. built in 1994 on an abandoned railroad viaduct. In 2005, the U.S. Federal Surface Transportation Board issued a "certificate of interim trail use" that allowed the city to remove most of the High Line from the national railway system thus allowing construction of the park. Construction was begun a year later and the southernmost section from Ganesvoort Street to 20th Street was opened as a park in 2009.

The High Line is a continuous, linear, landscaped walkway that is equipped with pedestrian amenities, seating, lighting, access stairs, gathering areas and water features and other elements forming a scenographic promenade through a magical architectural landscape of new and old buildings, and accumulated historic materials and fragments left over from the evolution of Manhattan's western waterfront. It forms an urban-scaled proscenium that frames the spectacular Hudson maritime landscape and the skyscrapers of midtown Manhattan.

Rather than building over the street, the viaduct was positioned to pass through the interior of blocks. The raised position gave direct access to individual buildings while avoiding cross traffic on the street below. The raised position and meandering route also afford views of the western edge of the Manhattan Greenway and the Hudson River beyond. Many of the new apartment buildings being built along the west side are seen prominently from the High Line while others have access directly from the High Line and extend the influence of the Greenway back several blocks into the fabric of the city. The rezoning and transferal of air rights over the High Line to buildings on either side further enhances the reading of spatial depth to the Greenway zone. The transformation of the railroad into an urban park has increased land values and stimulated real estate development in the communities along the line.

173-176 Perry & 165 Charles Streets

The row of three slim towers along the Hudson waterfront are Richard Meier's first buildings in Manhattan since the Westbeth Artists' housing and center built in 1970 just a few blocks away. The conversion of the old Bell Laboratories into an artist's center taking up an entire block in the West Village, with over 350 work/live studios, exhibit spaces and other facilities marked a critical turning point in the evolution of Greenwich Village from an industrial and manufacturing based community to a residential one. Westbeth was built around a 13-story courtyard. The High Line passed through the building at the 3rd floor. At this time the elevated West Expressway was still in existence and the area along the waterfront was littered with abandoned buildings, decrepit piers and vacant property. But, the conversion of Westbeth signaled the beginning of a new era in West Village development and a new perception about the real value of West Harbor real estate. Ninety percent of the warehouses had already been converted and the only development opportunities left now rested with strategies for marketing very expensive projects on small vacant sites

Fast-forward 32 years and Richard Meier is again at work along the Hudson waterfront. Stressing the value of the incredible views, Meier had the idea that river front sites would be highly desirable to a buyer looking for something exclusive and different from the typical Village conversions but with the appeal of a Greenwich address. The developers Richard Born, Ira Druukier and Charles Blachman felt there was a market for high-end condos designed by celebrity architects like Meier as a selling point. According to Born, Meier took about 20 minutes to come up with the idea of two, free standing 15-story glass towers facing west, backing up to the dense texture of existing old buildings overlooking the new waterfront landscape being built along West Side Highway. The site had spectacular views of the Hudson, the skyline of Lower Manhattan and the skyscrapers of Midtown Manhattan. The idea was that Meier would design the building exteriors including the curtain wall but the interiors would be left "raw". Wealthy owners would have their own interior designers. The towers were organized with 12 floors of flats, penthouse apartments on the top floors and a restaurant on the first floor of each. At one point, the existing parking garage behind the lots was to be developed as a hotel, but this idea was dropped to provide parking for the new buildings.

At first glance, the white towers look alike; 15 floors with articulated terrace elements at the top and commercial spaces and entrance lobbies at grade. Glass curtain walls are detailed to express the structural grid and the horizontal zones of spandrels and articulated vertical zones of balconies and partially revealed frame elements. The two northern towers are organized around similar concrete stacks at the rear of the site that service single dwellings on each floor that vary in size from about 1800 square feet in 173 Perry St., to 3750 sq. feet in 176 Perry St. 165 Charles St. is still larger at 5775 sq. ft., big enough for two large apartments per floor. There is still a vertical core at the rear but the building is wide enough to have two apartments that wrap around the sides of the stair & elevator stack. This arrangement is expressed in the symmetrical zoning of two apartments per floor and the division of the facade into two vertical zones extending the full height of the building. The Perry towers were built between 1999-2002 and contain 28 dwellings. Izak Senhahar developed Charles St. between 2003 and 2006 and it contains 31 apartments. Meier designed the exteriors, and several of the apartments in the north towers, and he designed all of the apartments in 165 Charles including the penthouse. This includes the pool, screening room and gym and other common spaces in the base of the building.

Because of the initial strategy to sell the floors of Perry173-176 as "raw" space, only a few of the apartments in the two northern buildings were designed by Meier. The limits imposed by the 1800 square foot plate in the north tower meant that about the only feasible apartment type was a quite generous one or two-bedroom dwelling. As the "raw" opportunities filled up, there seems to have been examples where floors were combined to make what would be very generous duplexes and one three- level triplex in Perry 176, that is about 10, 500 sq. ft. in size.

All three towers have similar plans that are dictated by the small, narrow sites. In each, the elevators and fire stairs have been combined into a very compact concrete tower at the east side of each site that backs up to the existing buildings along Perry and Charles. Attached to this is a larger block that is organized around an interior zone of service spaces: baths, the kitchen, storage and some ancillary spaces. Around this area, the main spaces of the apartment form a continuous open zone that opens to the panorama of the site on three sides. Typically the bedrooms are placed along one or both sides. Charles is a variation of the type because of the larger plate—5,775 sq. ft.—that is large enough for more than one dwelling per floor. Here, the plan is divided longitudinally to form two long apartments that back up to a long interior corridor in each dwelling. Service spaces back up this and open to the sides with bedrooms along the sidewall and a large living area opening to the view and a narrow terrace. Replacing the corner bedroom suites with small studio apartments forms a variation of this type. The top two floors of 165 Charles form a single penthouse apartment that features a huge two-story high living room that opens to a terrace overlooking the river landscape.

The staging of the construction of the 3 towers over about a six year period, a process overseen by a celebrity architect, several developers, and a group of very wealthy celebrity owners, was the source of many amusing anecdotes about the contentious relationship shared by this exclusive group. Few projects in recent memory compare to the volume of press coverage lavished on these two projects over this period of time. The transparency of the glass curtain walls, it seems, was only a metaphor for the transparency of the lives of the individuals who occupied this place. The idea of selling raw interior space in a Pritzker Prize-winning Richard Meier-designed building seemed logical, owners would not have to pay double to redesign a Meier interior. But there were many factors that contributed to a very protracted construction process. Some owners were buying as investments and had no intention of finishing the interiors. This group apparently included the developers themselves as well as the architect. The penthouse owners and others who had built early on in the process had to put up with continuous construction that meant several years of noise, dust, and security problems, unfinished lobbies, heavy traffic on the elevators, and construction debris scattered around everywhere. Owners, who finished early, were unwilling to make any concessions for the location of the infrastructure needed to finish the apartments in the lower levels. Unfinished apartments were left unmaintained and there were problems with water intrusion, ruined hardwood floors, leaky balconies, curtain wall leaks, and HVAC problems that resulted in lawsuits and constant haranguing over the location of services in these custom interiors. There were reports of security staff giving paid tours of the buildings during construction. Inside blinds required in the design and the condominium agreement as a way to control the uniform look of the exterior curtain wall were not installed or were changed to suite different interiors. The blind system was also part of the energy and solar profile of the buildings so that the blinds had an impact on the function of the HVAC systems. The blinds continue to be a contentious issue because of the variety in the look and quality of the materials used in later designs, few of which matched the quality of the Meier interiors. The need to protect the expensive art of well-heeled patrons took on exaggerated importance in Meier's floor-to-ceiling glass curtain walls. The issue of achieving a uniform appearance and a single completion deadline was addressed with 165 Charles because Meier designed all the interiors.

The zoning and size limitations of the site meant that there could only be a small number of apartments in each building, one or two flats per floor and a total of about 60 dwellings. The economies of building a tower with a small footprint and the 15-floor height limit of the zoning code result in a vertically attenuated form and distinctive "petite" proportions. Mies van der Rohe's 860 Lake Shore Drive in Chicago of the 1950's, by comparison, another luxury twin tower complex built in the 1950's, contains 90, 3-bedroom apartments in just one of the towers. Perry/Charles was very expensive real estate, something in the range of twice the square foot cost of a typical West Village condo. One of the developers suggested that he did not plan on selling at double the going price, it just happened.

The obvious inefficiencies of vertical circulation--just one or two apartments per floor-- and egress requirements, the need to maintain open space around towers, and the need for enough room depth to maintain reasonable day lighting, render point-access towers--especially, short towers like these-- unlikely choices as a preferred residential building type. While there are many interesting examples of point-access towers, it remains a problematic building block for use in dense urban configurations. Still, towers like Le Corbusier's giant cruciform design for the City of Three Million, 1925, August Perret's Paris towers of 1922, Frank Lloyd Wright's proposal for a Mile High Tower of, 1925 and the built-version of this example, the slim tower built outside Bartlesville, in 1945, SOM's John Hancock building in Chicago, 1968, and the more recent precedents in Dubai, Singapore, and Hong Kong, Caracas, or Kuala Lampur, fuel the popular fascination of a heavenly residence in an extremely tall building. 860-880 Lake Shore Drive, Chicago, Mies van der Rohe's iconic towers (slabs really) on the Chicago waterfront may be the most compelling precedent for Meier's Perry/Charles site; luxury apartments in a pair of glass curtain-walled, narrow slabs, one black, sited at the edge of a landscaped waterfront park, and raised above the ground, a steel version of Le Corbusier's pilotis". At 26 floors, 860-880 is nearly twice as tall as Meier's slim blocks and has little architectonic development of either the base or the top of the building. The pitfalls and urban limitations of the freestanding tower are avoided because the concrete walls of the elevator/stair core can be placed against the existing party-wall buildings on Perry & Charles streets so that the three continuously glazed walls of each building open to panoramic views. The south walls are aligned with West Avenue while the east and south facades are parallel with the side streets so that each building incorporates the nuances of the site geometry. The side entrances, the zoning of the plan from the rear core to the oblique plane of the south facade, the flush treatment of the side facades, and the details of the street façade—the cantilevered balconies and semi-detached projecting frame--result in a detached, layered quality that reinforces the sense of east/west momentum and the quality of compressed layers, or "frontal effects". As Meier said, "…one could hardly wait to get home at night to see the sunset". This was important enough to Meier and Calvin Klein, who was considering buying the penthouse at 176 Perry, that they got a helicopter and hovered above the site at the approximate level of the 15th floor to check out the view.

Perry /Charles Streets display an advanced version of the abstract minimalist formal architectural vocabulary that Meier has been using for many years. This language, used in both commercial and residential models, begins with white walls--interior and exterior-- a developed relationship between structural frame and exterior wall usually expressed as round white columns and window divisions, spiral stairs, white plaster walls and furnishings, the use of expensive materials, the consistent use of "transparent" alignment as an organizational principle, and the use of double height rooms as an essential part of the spatial program of every dwelling. This architectonic regimen is ideally matched with a collection of classic modernist furnishings. The sparse furnishing reinforces the imagery of gallery spaces, and indeed, "museum" and "apartment" seem to be interchangeable terms, especially in the duplexes and triplexes. We could well be looking at a 15- floor high stack of Smith House permutations. Floor-to-ceiling glass curtain walls have always presented a technological challenge for the architect: heat gain, sound transfer, intense day lighting, all this glass comes at a price. While Lincoln Highway is billed as a "boulevard", it is really a noisy, 6- lane highway. Sound transfer is controlled with laminated glass that has a layer of polyvinyl butyl that applied between layers of glass under heat and pressure that has the ability to dampen vibration, according to the manufacturer, by something like 50%. More blocking is achieved by adding a pane of laminated glass to an insulating glazing system. A radiant low-E coating is used to give a low light transmittance (50%) and reduced solar heat gain. Blinds further control light transmission. White metal panels and shadow boxes are used to that cover the floor plates and spandrel glass is covered with a ceramic coating that has a green tint. The layered, horizontal quality of the west facades is reinforced by varying the depth of the spandrel framing, by extending this framing past the top floor, and stopping short at the sides, creating a developed plastic quality to the facade. The striated quality of the front facade contrasts with the flush quality of the two side facades where the tinted glass is used in the railings. In 165 Charles, the glass in the west facade is flush while there is more depth to the two side facades, a condition suggested by the recessed balconies. These spatial tricks, and the subtle variations in the color of the glass provide counterpoint to the grid of the curtain wall.

As the new landscape of the Hudson River Greenway fills in Perry/Charles Streets will look more and more like a recent exercise in Ville Radieuse urbanism. Zoning and site conditions pretty much dictated building volume and the number of dwellings. Density might have been increased with smaller apartments and a loss of duplexes and triplexes, but Perry/Charles is not housing for the proletariat. An economy version might have been possible, but not profitable. It is what it is: an exclusive enclave for wealthy buyers. The scenic panorama certainly has great value and the imposition of these crystalline towers into a context still in transition does not seem to be the stylistic problem forecast by the detractors of Richard Meyer's architecture. Building at the West Edge still has its shortcomings. The evolution from railroad tracks to elevated highway, to abandoned elevated highway to a "boulevard" has not been an easy transition. Lincoln Highway, now 6 lanes wide, is certainly an improvement over the elevated structure that it replaced but, it still seriously blocks access to the water from the buildings along the east side of the street. Even with the landscaped median, it is difficult to cross the street to use the waterfront park.

David, Joshua, Robert Hammond, High Line: the inside story of the New York City's park in the sky, Farrar, Straus and Giroux, New York, 2011.

Eastman, Chuck, Paul Teicholz, Rafael Sacks, Kathleen Liston, BIM Handbook: A Guide to Building Information Modeling for Owners, Managers…, Wiley, 2011.

French, Hillary, New Urban Housing, Yale University Press, New Haven, pp. 150-151.

Meier, Richard, Richard Meier Houses and Apartments, Rizzoli, New York, 2007, pp.138, 144, 172, 192, 206.

Ward, Vicky,

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