31 in 31: #6

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.

Westbeth Artists' Housing

The two towers on Perry Street from 2002 may be Richard Meier's first new buildings in Manhattan, but 32 years earlier his first project on the island was completed. Westbeth Artists' Housing is the conversion of some old Western Electric/Bell Laboratories' buildings occupying a city block a little bit north of the Perry and subsequent Charles Street towers by the architect. Bell Labs moved to New Jersey in the 1960's and then some activists and the J.M. Kaplan Fund creatively repurposed the buildings. Over half-a-million square feet was transformed into affordable live/work spaces for artists and their families, with communal spaces and cultural facilities.

Westbeth Artists' Housing

A couple voids mark the building. The first is a remnant of the High Line at the third floor of the 13-story section along Washington Street. I believe it is the old railway viaduct's only remnant south of Gansevoort. Second is the courtyard shown above; it is reached by a plaza off of Bank Street and smaller portals on West and Bethune Streets. Open to the sky, originally it was covered by a roof and two floors. In addition to creating a light well for residents, Meier added semi-circular balconies "to provide additional egress from the duplex units and to engage the courtyard spaces." This design does not portend the glassy towers to the south, but it does situate the importance of light and the white palette that still characterizes Meier's architecture.

#1 - Phyto Universe
#2 - One Bryant Park
#3 - Pier 62 Carousel
#4 - Bronx River Art Center
#5 - The Pencil Factory