January 09 2012

The Standard, New York Won the A.I.A. Award and It's a Really Big Deal

Ariel View of The Standard, New York. Photo Alex S. MacLean

Christ on a Cracker, we won! Every year The A.I.A. (The American Institute of Architects) honors a handful of projects around the United States and you won’t believe who they picked for 2011. That’s right. The Standard, New York won the Institute Honor Award for Architecture and we are in great company - click here to see all the award winners. So you’re just going to have to allow us a little self-congratulation while we blush with pride. To give you some perspective on just how big a deal this is, we sat down with André Balazs Properties’ Vice President of Design Development, Christine Gachot, to discuss The Standard’s epic architectural execution (Did you know it took the longest, continuous concrete pour in the history of New York to build this hotel?) and how it came to be a “Mid-Century” Marvel.

Standard Culture: If the AIA Award were a movie award what would it be?

Christine Gachot: I would say The Pritzker is like the Oscar and The AIA is like the Screen Actor’s Guild Award and the reason why it is so important is because it’s a peer review by very serious players in the industry, and from all walks of the industry. It’s a very valid, very prestigious honor. To be recognized by your peers is the biggest compliment.

You have seen this project through since its infancy, since inception really, back in 2003. If the building of The Standard, New York were a fictional story, what would it be?

War and Peace comes to mind. It certainly was epic, a lot of characters, a large cast. If it was a film it would be Ben Hur. And you know, important. Anytime you have the opportunity to build something that is going to be around for a very long time and affect the skyline of Manhattan, that’s a big deal. And I feel that we were very responsible vis-a-vis the neighborhood. Keeping the building slender. Keeping the open view corridors that go out to the river for the rest of the community. We didn’t really block anyone’s view.

You built this really substantial tower and yet, every guest room has a wonderful view of the cityscape or the Hudson River.

It is amazing that we were able to capture our views so beautifully, so directly. It’s really a forced perspective from the inside out, but there was also a general movement to keep it slim.

Well it has such a presence, but at the same time it’s not an imposing presence.

So many people have asked me how long the building has been there for, which is so nice because people really think that it is indigenous [to some time in the middle of the 20th century] which is great because that was our aim. Those were the references – the UN Building, Mies, Seagrams, Corbusier – and it’s just a really nice compliment to the building that it doesn’t feel contemporary. It truly feels modern. And there’s a big difference between the two. I think it had a lot to do with the use of concrete.

Do you think the concrete juxtaposes with the glass curtain or they just sort of go together?

It takes a lot of nerve to use concrete in New York City. I mean concrete is difficult to get right anywhere. That’s why you don’t really see it anymore, especially with a tower.

Why is concrete not used anymore? Is it difficult to get the color and effect that you’re going for?

It just doesn’t look right. It’s just not an art form anymore.

Left: View of The Standard mid-construction looking up Washington Street. Right: Completed with the High Line park below.

Was the building always going to bridge the High Line? Was that always the concept from Day One?

No. We didn’t know how to engage the High Line. It was such a new thing back then. It was just this derelict railroad that was going to be some kind of public space. It was certainly not the global success that it is today. And then you have the Meatpacking District that wasn’t really gentrified yet, at least not in this Western zone along the river, where nothing was really going on.

We had to go on this crazy odyssey to find the view corridors, figuring out: What do we want to see? What don’t we want to see? How do we not block out the rest of the community? So we would climb up into these abandoned buildings and meat packing plants, and we would climb up these dark stairways with flashlights, climb up ladders and pop up these little hatches onto these roofs and I used to think it was like being in the movie Being John Malkovich. You would come up into this view and he would be like, “Right. This is it. This is the view.”

So the massing we weren’t sure. Is it curved? Does it engage the high line? Does it ignore the high line? Does it cantilever the high line? How do we get this thing going? And then I think the move to have the small bend in the middle gave us the forced perspectives that we were looking for, kept it very slender for the community and bridged the High Line.

The Standard at night

What was the hardest part, or greatest challenge of stradling an 18 story tower over the High Line?

Well, you’re building a bridge over a bridge. So that was challenging. Structurally. That was probably one of the larger challenges of the project, the structural engineering. The East Pier [That's the column you see from Washington Street] takes most of the load for the building and was the longest continual pour of concrete in the history of New York. We closed down the West Side Highway. There were concrete trucks just parading down the West Side Highway when they were pouring the pier. It was pretty cool.

Guinness Book! I love it!

It was like Modern Marvels. I feel like when I think back about The Standard and all the effort that went into it, it feels similar to watching the making of the Hoover Dam. I feel like it could have been a show.

All modern architecture owes debts to its predecessors. Are there any architects, designers, periods or styles that you should be thanking at the podium.

Our dilemma was this: we knew that we could never make it look completely contextual because of the scale. At the time the neighborhood was built up, people just didn’t build tall. Everything was low and brick. So if you can’t have it be contextual from the original time period, when then, do you add that touch? That’s when André decided it should have that very Mid-Century moment. He wanted it almost to look like a building from the 70s, 60s or 50s that we found and redid. Most of our inspiration images were Corbu [Le Corbusier], Mies [Mies van der Rohe], and certainly the UN.

Left: Guest Room Right: Erwin Hauer Blocks in the Lobby

Let’s go inside. What are the interior design moments you’re most proud of?

The Erwin Hauer Blocks. He’s an iconic sculptor and designer and the blocks are his signature thing. The guy’s like a hundred years old. He’s been honored by every single design award there is and he came himself to oversee the installation. You know a lot of people would have just knocked it off, but we decided to get the actual guy to come and do it properly.

The other thing that’s interesting about the interiors is that almost every surface is touched with a material. You have a lot of stone. You have a lot of tile and wood. And you just don’t see that anymore. No one wants to spend the money and they’re not that thoughtful. This whole painted drywall thing is a relatively new concept. The fact that all the surfaces inside were thought of, it’s really nice. It just makes it feel rich.

I had never thought about how in 19th Century homes every wall was wood paneled or crown molded, everything is completed.

It’s complete. Especially for a hotel, it really has that. It feels finished. There’s not an area where you feel like, oh this isn’t done. It wasn’t completed properly. I also like the tambour on the ceilings in the guest rooms, how it plays from exterior to interior.

These are the wood slots that run up by the bed.

Right. Typically when you look up at a high rise, all you can see is the ceiling. And André really wanted it to be warmer and that’s how this came about, this notion that all of these design moves work on the interior and the exterior. It’s a fantastic work in congress. Everything has that tug from interior to exterior. It’s never about one. A lot of the concrete is articulated on the interior. You see that beautiful East Pier from Washington Street and you see it from inside the restaurant.

And the 18th Floor that big lit column and also the Disco ball in Le Bain is like a beacon.

I think the Top of The Standard is as beautiful from the exterior as it is from the inside. And the views from up there, I mean come on forget about it. Everyone always talks about the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, but it’s actually so much more interesting than that. If you go to the 4th floor (that’s where I stay when I stay. I stay low.) Washington Street is so wide and long so you get this interesting vehicular view. Then you have the eight bustling lanes of the West Side Highway, and next to that people are biking, jogging, walking. You have helicopters. You have boats and cruise ships sailing by, of course the High Line. You have Air Force One flying by. Just watching people get around in New York is fascinating and it’s just a great perch to see it from. Rarely do you get to see all that at once. From The Standard, you get to see how New York works. How it moves. And yes the Empire State Building looks pretty great too.

Of your fellow honorees, who are you most honored to be associated with?

The Cooper Union Building is nice because it’s another New York project and is another highly acclaimed, respected building.


Exactly. Clearly they pulled it off. Which is not easy to do.