A discreet approach to new building
As Anaximander of Miletus observed some 26 centuries ago, “Things are transformed into each other according to necessity and give justice to one another in conformity with the ordinance of time”. The quotation seems particularly relevant today looking at the photos of the recent building designed by SWA architecture at 132-136 West Houston Street in Lower Manhattan, New York City.
Squeezed between the low brick and plaster buildings of a historic area of the metropolis between Soho and the legendary Greenwich Village, the new building maintains a certain style while at the same time evoking the nostalgic atmosphere of a bygone era. It brings to mind the film “Barefoot in the park” with Robert Redford and Jane Fonda or the image of a youthful Bob Dylan and his muse Suze Rotolo huddled together against the cold as they stroll amongst these tenement buildings on a freezing winter’s day, immortalised in Don Huntstein’s photo for the cover of the iconic album “The Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan”.
The quality of the project is particularly evident in the restraint with which the new building merges into the context and in its ability to steer clear of postmodern pastiche, a misstep that would have negated any sense of “justice in conformity with the ordinance of time”.
The eight-floor building is strategically located just three blocks from Washington Square Park, surrounded by fashionable clubs, cafés and restaurants. The Soho shopping district is within a five-minute walk, as are numerous theatres and art galleries. The mixed-use development combines several commercial spaces with six apartments that stand out for their meticulous spatial organisation and finishes.
Adopting an open-plan distribution concept for the living areas, each dwelling unit features three bedrooms with ensuites, high-standard technological equipment, terraces and large full-height glazed surfaces capable of combining an exclusive domestic environment with spectacular views over the vibrant urban surroundings and the nearby MacDougal-Sullivan Garden.
In this setting, the extensive use of Italian ceramic tile represented a kind of application manifesto for the various fields of use of this product, the palette of colours, materials and sizes bringing added value to the architecture while ensuring a high level of sustainability through LEED credits.
The New York-based practice SWA architecture chose numerous collections from various Florim brands for both the interior spaces and the exterior cladding and envelope (rainscreen, terraces, attic and garden). The selected surfaces fit in perfectly with the style of the surrounding urban contexts – eclectic for the common areas and minimalist for the domestic spaces – with a preference for large slabs and panels including the brands Casa dolce casa – Casamood (Wooden Tile series), Floor Gres (B&W, Industrial and Styletech series), CEDIT – Ceramiche d’Italia (Matrice) and Rex (I Classici).
The high quality of the 132-136 West Houston Street project earned it first prize in the Ceramics of Italy Tile Competition Award 2019, the annual award for innovative use of Italian tiles in architecture and design in North America.