Brick and Glass in New York Apartment Buildings

The pair of new apartment buildings designed by Richard Meier is the rarest of things in Manhattan: distinctive, original residential architecture.

One of the last of the Modernists, Meier here has dropped his usual preference for solid-white buildings and instead designed see-through ones. Meier has taken Modernist patriarch Philip Johnson's "Glass House" and stretched it into apartment buildings. The Perry Street towers doubtless have their flaws. Their chic residents such as Nicole Kidman and Calvin Klein are completely exposed in their full-story apartments until they add some curtains. But the building's emphasis on views fits its location overlooking the Hudson River. The apartments sell as unfinished concrete shells for several million dollars; Klein paid a reported $14 million for the three-story penthouse.

In the hip Meatpacking District just north of the Meier building, architect Gregg Pasquarelli of SHOP architects has placed a six-story, gunmetal-gray box at an off-angle on top of a renovated older brick building. The juxtaposition of styles is jarring and original. The most daring touch is the placing of flat, rectangular electric lights at irregular intervals on the exterior of the building and in the hallways. These make the Porter House one of the most visually distinctive buildings in the city.

Unlike the Porter House and Perry Street buildings, most new apartment buildings in Manhattan are flat brick boxes, virtually undistinguishable from one another. They have gone up all over Manhattan. As is the case with suburban McMansions, these buildings' developers eschew distinctive architecture and prefer to put their attention and money into interior "hot button" finishes like "Brazilian granite countertops and stainless steel appliances," as one ad for a particularly dull building described its kitchens.

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