Last spring, developer Related Cos. became disenchanted with the design of the first phase of Hudson Yards, the gargantuan project on top of a train storage yard along the Hudson River.
The original design of Hudson Yards had three straight boxy towers.
“I could tell that Stephen wasn’t in love with it,” recalls Jay Cross, who oversees the project for Related, referring to the developer’s chairman, Stephen Ross. “He felt he wanted the buildings to be more dramatic. And we found that the marketplace was looking for bigger buildings.”
That made for a busy summer for Related and its architect William Pedersen, one of the name partners at the firm Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates. The result, which was recently unveiled, is an improvement in terms of the interactions of the buildings if not in the aesthetics of the buildings themselves.
With 26 acres and more than 12 million square feet of potential developable space overtop Hudson Yards competes with the rebuilding of the World Trade Center site as New York’s current, highest-profile development effort. Related has signed a deal with handbag-maker Coach Inc. to move its headquarters into 600,000 square feet in the south tower.
A new rendering shows two jagged towers
Kohn Pedersen’s original first-phase design called for three boxy steel office towers, the shortest one in the middle, along the east side of the site. Each building had the same square-jawed look of consternation: renderings showed stacks of long, plain blocks of steel and concrete arrayed to look like a cubist abstraction, or a screenshot from Tetris, the old block-stacking video-game. In between was to be four stories of retail space centered around a large glass box with a cyclone-shaped structure.
The design wasn’t terrible. But it wasn’t the sort of arresting, statement-making architecture that one would expect a next-big-thing type of project. KPF’s early designs for the buildings were like Buckingham Palace bobbies: standing straight and erect, faces constant, but not saying much of anything at all.
The new plan for phase one, recently unveiled, describes a much different composition. The 30-story middle building is gone. New renderings show two jagged towers—the more northerly one 67 stories and sloping diagonally toward the city, the other, 51 stories and angled towards the Hudson—that slash through the skyline. Connecting the two buildings will be eight stories of retail and trading-floor space.
The two office towers are disappointing as stand-alone buildings. Like most modern office towers they are brash and arrogant instead of being noble and poised. Their form is shard-like: all harsh angles with a jaggedness that evokes crystals or canyon rock formations.
But the new design helps make up for this in the way the office buildings interact. The mirror-image slopes of the two buildings, which would regard one another differently from nearly every angle of viewing, give viewers the sensation of two dancers in the midst of a paso doble. The southern building, which would house Coach, is, sensibly, the female of the pair —slightly shorter, with the atrium manifested as a slit in the dancer’s ball gown, giving a glimpse of a flash of leg underneath.
Mr. Pedersen talks frequently of the “responsibility of tall buildings” to interact rationally with the urban context around them. The towers, through their interplay, emphasize the presence of a long, open, park space—set to run east-west from the towers to the river—that will go in between them.
“The buildings have to be able to, by their internal biology, create social connections,” Mr. Pedersen says. “Too many buildings around the world have independent, sculptural shapes. The effect here is to connect the building directly to the city.”
This intent is certainly palpable in the design. And if Related eventually ends up landing another signature tenant for the north tower, the plan will be realized, and the two buildings will go ahead and dance their way around the fabric of the city’s newest cluster of statement-making skyscrapers.