When he’s not topping power plants with ski slopes (and topping green roofs on almost everything else), LEGO-reared Danish architect Bjarke Ingels is slowly but surely transforming the skyline of New York City.
Or the skyline of Manhattan's West Side, anyway.
At a site located just a little more than 20 blocks south from Ingel’s first New York commission, VIA 57 West (aka the “hyperbolic paraboloid” of a housing complex that’s rapidly taking shape alongside the West Side Highway), the ceaselessly enthusiastic 41-year-old's eponymous firm, Bjarke Ingels Group (BIG), has unveiled plans for another super-tall structure that challenges the way we look at — and interact with — the built environment.
Part of the ungodly large Hudson Yards redevelopment project on Manhattan’s Far West Side, The Spiral is a 65-story office tower that subtly tapers as it increases in height. This in itself isn’t at all unusual — it’s essentially BIG’s take on the classic New York City setback skyscraper, a structure, borne out of a 1916 zoning law, in which the upper floors are stepped/terraced to allow for daylight and fresh air to reach the man-made canyons of Manhattan located hundreds of feet below.
Here’s where things get interesting: The Spiral, true to its name is fully wrapped in a cascading ribbon of lushly planted terraces, hanging gardens and soaring atria that spirals its way up and around the building from street to sky. Just follow the “continuous green pathway” to heaven...
As with every BIG-helmed structure, Ingels offers deep thought, particularly with regard to form, to complement the architectural razzle-dazzle.
“Spiral shapes appear in nature as the inevitable result of dynamic forces applied to matter,” explains Ingels in his “Bill and Ted”-meets-Arnold Schwarzenegger accent as he ascends the equestrian staircase of Copenhagen’s historic Rundetårn in a promo video for the project. “That’s why we find spirals all over the universe, from the construction of galaxies to the threads of human DNA. But it’s the spiral’s immaculate geometry and the suggestion of the infinite that has mesmerized us in all cultures across time and place.”
Then there's a matter of location. Spanning an entire block between 10th Avenue between 34th and 35th streets, the $3 billion building developed by Tishman Speyer is perched at the eventual northern terminus of the High Line, the game-changing — and neighborhood-changing — adaptive reuse project that places a linear park atop an old elevated railway line. In a sense, The Spiral’s circular swath of greenery, slashed across the slender structure like a vegetative wound, will act as a sort of vertical continuation of the High Line.
The Spiral's outdoor terraces are adjacent to atriums that connect multiple levels of the building, 'offering an alternative to elevators and encourage physical activity and interaction amongst colleagues.' (Rendering: Bjarke Ingels Group)
“This punctuates the High Line as the dot on the end of the question mark,” Ingels recently elaborated to the Wall Street Journal. “This linear urban garden climbs higher and higher from the High Line to the skyline, if you like.”
I do like.
With all 2.85 million square feet of the LEED-targeting Spiral reserved for commercial use including 27,000 square feet dedicated to "first-class retail," it’s safe to assume that at least a few of the outdoor sky terraces (each floor will have one along with a double-height atrium) will be accessible to the general public. The seventh floor, which includes an "amenity terrace" that appears to wrap around the entire circumference of the building, looks like a shoo-in for public green space-dom. And given that Manhattan’s new breed of super-tall towers — the “supertalls,” if you will — are largely residential affairs open only to the ultra-rich, Gizmodo’s Alissa Walker wonders if a High Line-linked office tower such as The Spiral will take a slightly more egalitarian approach and stand as New York’s first “socially responsible supertall.”
Whatever the case, even if Joe Public can’t ascend the tower — it's "designed for the people that occupy it," after all — all the way to the top, it’s pretty wild to imagine starting off on the southern tip of the High Line at Ganesvoort Street, meandering your way up 20-odd blocks to 35th Street, entering a shiny glass tower through its lobby and then continuing on roughly that same path 1,000 feet into the sky.
The Spiral will be located in the heart of the Hudson Yards, a project that encompasses 17 million square feet and is the largest private real estate development in U.S. history. (Rendering: Bjarke Ingels Group)
I’d say bring a sensible pair of shoes for that journey. Or you could just skip the High Line altogether and get off at the brand new 7 Train station at Hudson Yards, located just across the street from The Spiral.
Outside of his two West Side projects, the pyramidic residential high-rise on West 57th Street and the spiraling office building-cum-High Line extension at Hudson Yards, Ingels’ other New York City projects include 2 World Center (a project recently left without an anchor tenant after 21st Century Fox and News Corp. pulled out last month), a triangular viewing platform at Brooklyn Bridge Park and a $50 million police station in the Bronx.
Yet it’s another Ingels-helmed project in New York that, if realized, will have the biggest impact on the, ahem, BIG Apple: the Dryline (previously known as BIG U), a 10-mile swath of storm surge-resilient parkland that protects Lower Manhattan from catastrophic flooding brought on by extreme weather events like Superstorm Sandy.
For more on Ingels' attention-commanding work, do check out this recent Dezeen opinion piece by Aaron Betsky, dean of the Frank Lloyd Wright School of Architecture. Although Betsky voices his reservations, he does consider himself a fan noting that Ingels' work succeeds in part of because of a "conceptual commitment to his twin goals of making science fiction (or video games) real and saving the planet."