31 in 31: #31

This is a series for August 2010 which documents my on-the-ground -- and on-the-webs -- research for my guidebook to contemporary NYC architecture (to be released next year by W. W. Norton). Archives can be found at the bottom of the post and via the 31 in 31 label.

Sperone Westwater Gallery

The Sperone Westwater Gallery, designed Foster + Partners, is nearing completion about a block north of the New Museum. This piece continues the transformation of the Bowery, from Cooper Union down to Chinatown. In the ten or eleven years since I stayed at a hostel on the Bowery the street has seen numerous new buildings as well as restaurants and shops, displacing the old flophouses and mainstays like CBGB's.

Sperone Westwater Gallery

I always liked to think of the Bowery as un-gentrifiable, a zone immune to the changes in neighborhing SoHo, NoHo, the Lower East Side, and the East Village. Of course I was wrong, but a nine-story building with a bright red elevator on its facade is probably the last thing I would have expected from the alternative scenario.

Sperone Westwater Gallery

Norman Foster's design is the antithesis of the New Museum, which made the Bowery cool for institutions with money to spend on buildings by name-brand architects. SANAA's stacked and shifted white boxes respond to the zoning envelope without making that legal device explicit; Foster's design rises to the maximum street wall and then sets back once. Done.

Sperone Westwater Gallery

Granted, the 20-foot-wide lot doesn't give much room for play, so Foster focuses on the skins. Facing the Bowery on the first five floors is an all-glass wall with laminations that allow light and views, but the latter are indistinct, yet not so much that the elevator's workings aren't apparent. One effect of the glass, which lies somewhere between transparent and translucent, is the band of light visible in these photos. It must be an unwritten code that new buildings must have a surface that blinds passersby!

Sperone Westwater Gallery

The side walls, facing north and south, are blanketed with black corrugated metal, the panels mimicking -- but oddly not following exactly, in size or spacing -- the glass on the front. The rear facade is similar to the top of the front, with a zipper of clear glass running vertically between what looked to be solid panels (not translucent like the front). Foster's design certainly has a strong presence on the Bowery, but its industrial elegance will pack more of a wallop at night when the glass box is illuminated and the red box glows.

#1 - Phyto Universe
#2 - One Bryant Park
#3 - Pier 62 Carousel
#4 - Bronx River Art Center
#5 - The Pencil Factory
#6 - Westbeth Artists' Housing
#7 - 23 Beekman Place
#8 - Metal Shutter Houses
#9 - Bronx Box
#10 - American Academy of Arts and Letters
#11 - FDR Four Freedoms Park
#12 - One Madison Park
#13 - Pio Pio Restaurant
#14 - Queens West (Stage II)
#15 - 785 Eighth Avenue
#16 - Big BambĂș
#17 - Event Horizon
#18 - Murano
#19 - William Lescaze House
#20 - Morgan Library and Museum
#21 - MTA Flood Mitigation
#22 - Wilf Hall
#23 - Yohji Yamamoto
#24 - NYU Center for Academic and Spiritual Life
#25 - Nehemiah Spring Creek
#26 - Longchamps
#27 - 9th Street Residence
#28 - Crocs
#29 - Art et Industrie
#30 - Tartinery Nolita


  1. What an innovative way to maximize the space of this lot! The way this building fits perfectly inbetween two traditional city style buildings makes it seem like it grew out of the ground or was plugged in like a motherboard of a computer. The architect did a fantastic job of setting this building apart from its traditional neighbors. Great post!

  2. Yes, great post. This building is an extraordinary articulation of spaces and reminds me - if only in its creative use of the ridiculously narrow space - of spite architecture: for example, The Skinny House in Boston. In its pure modernist (wedged) form it has some similarities with The Sliver House in London (with its glass facade it appears to settle ever so lightly between traditional brick homes). Also the brilliant and narrow City Lights dwelling in Antwerp, designed by Sculpt(It architects Peerlings and Martens.
    While spite architecture strives for obdurate solidity, these contemporary design solutions for tight nooks and crannies have such a light touch. At night they are simple light boxes. Yamashita's narrow Lucky Drops (8 x 11 m) in Tokyo takes this theme further creating a scuptural lantern dwelling. The light box theme is wonderful, and is evident in so much contemporary architecture - not just small buildings which convey a 'light footprint' - but also in some large scale public architecture. See Donovan Hill, Peddle Thorpe's State Library in Brisbane, Australia. The delicate backlit opaque skins are juxtaposed against more solid and permanent forms, concrete and metal cladding (concrete stains and rusted metal remind us of time passing and impermanence, as do the weathered timber battens. http://www.archdaily.com/66223/state-library-of-queensland-donovan-hill-peddle-thorp-architects/jon-linkins_01/
    Such buildings provide a stark
    contrast to their solid institutional surroundings. Their semi transparent lightness is much more lowkey design statement than say Gehry's public buildings with their spectacular reflective armour-like external cladding.


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