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Hop on the High Line

The latest creation from André Balazs is a New York branch of his modish Standard hotels. Rising from one of the city’s most sought-after sites, in the heart of the Meatpacking District, two glass-curtain slabs literally jump the tracks of the High Line, the old freight railroad that’s been transformed into a park on stilts. The design spans—and expands on—a century of modern architecture.

 

 

André Balazs is a pioneer in the boutique-hotel business; his company owns the Mercer in Manhattan, Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles, and the Raleigh in Miami Beach. His latest project, now nearing completion in the heart of New York City’s Meatpacking District (MePa), is a branch of his lower-priced but almost intimidatingly modish Standard hotels. The new Standard—there are already two in L.A. and one in Miami—is situated on a small plot of land that is one of the most intensely sought-after development sites in the city. MePa—until recently a Weegee-esque province of bloody-smocked meat workers and transgender prostitutes—has become a high-rent district of shops, restaurants, and clubs.

“For the first time I had a hard time imagining what the hotel should look like,” Balazs says. “I usually renovate older buildings, and this was ground-up construction. Add to that the matter of the High Line and it was a unique challenge.” The High Line, which cuts diagonally through Balazs’s building site, is an 80-year-old elevated freight railroad running down Manhattan’s West Side, abandoned since 1980 but currently being transformed into a greenway, or park on stilts, designed by the architecture firm of Diller Scofidio & Renfro. The High Line’s first section is scheduled to open this spring, and already the park is considered one of the most innovative and influential urban-renewal projects of our time. “We had to be sensitive to this new landmark,” Balazs continues. “It tramples through our site, but it also defines it. That said, we wanted to not be overly shy or reverent toward it. Whatever we put up there would have to jump the train tracks.”

The Standard, designed by Todd Schliemann of the New York firm Polshek Partnership Architects, is a Le Corbusier–style glass-slab building, floating above the High Line. It harks back to such New York City International Style glass buildings as Lever House and the United Nations. Schliemann explains: “The High Line is important, so we are not going to make it go through the building, or build around it, or hide it behind the building. We are not only going to step over it, we are going to exist above it.” Balazs and Schliemann recently spotted a New York real-estate blog posting that refers to the hotel’s “perpetual lap dance” with the High Line. “Very apt,” says Balazs. “The hotel straddles it in a suggestive way, but they never touch.”

The Standard hotel’s tower is a 20-story structure consisting of two colliding concrete-framed planes of glass curtain wall. From a distance, the building looks like an open book standing on end. The slab tower rests on poured-in-place-concrete pilotis, which hold it, heroically, 56 feet off the ground and 30 feet above the track bed of the High Line. The building is hoisted up not for its own sake but because there is something of significance underneath. When the High Line is completed, the area around the Standard will be known as the Gansevoort Woodland (Gansevoort Street is nearby). In spring there will be a profusion of redbud and birch trees on the promenade. A building that hovers over a copse planted on an old train viaduct, accessible to the public, is something new under the sun.

“If you had to look at this project from an urban-planning perspective,” says Balazs, “it gets more modern, in terms of building type and décor, the higher you get. The ground floor relates to early in the last century, the time of the High Line. The hotel floors, in the tower, are midcentury—I was looking at Eero Saarinen, Mies van der Rohe, and Arne Jacobsen, who had designed an amazing hotel in Stockholm in the 50s.” (Balazs collaborated on the interiors with the Hollywood set designer Shawn Hausman and the New York firm of Roman and Williams.) On the top floor, which is a double-height, glass-enclosed space, a supper club and lounge are decked out in homage to Warren Platner, a protégé of Saarinen’s. An iconic interior designer of the 1960s and 70s, Platner designed the original Windows on the World restaurant, in the north tower of the World Trade Center. The views from the Standard, though 80 stories lower than those from Windows on the World, are comparably spectacular. The Empire State Building takes center stage to the north, with Midtown Manhattan as a backdrop. If you look south, it seems as if the hotel cantilevers over the Hudson River, as the shore of Manhattan takes a sharp turn eastward. In the distance: the Statue of Liberty.

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