One of the most eagerly anticipated new residential projects in New York has been 21 East 12th Street in the heart of Greenwich Village. A 22-story ground-up development designed by Annabelle Selldorf for real estate developer Billy Macklowe, the building has 52 units that range in price from $2.5 million to $17.5 million—more than 40 of which have already sold or are in contract—as well as ample outdoor space for its occupants. Selldorf is well-known for her elegant take on architecture, a style she has applied to spaces as varied as the Michael Werner Gallery in New York, Hauser & Wirth’s outpost in LA, and the upcoming expansion of the Frick Collection. Residential projects and retail are also a large part of her portfolio.
Robb Report caught up with the noted architect to talk about this latest development.
What led you to team up with Billy Macklowe?
I knew Billy Macklowe well having worked with him before on two personal residential projects—a large new house in the Hamptons and the renovation of his Manhattan apartment. He is a great client—very collaborative and perceptive and smart about design—so I was thrilled when he asked my firm to design 21 East 12th Street. The site is very close to our offices in Union Square and I pass it daily on my walk to work from my apartment in Greenwich Village. And it has been a great pleasure to design something for a neighborhood that I know well and care about deeply.
What sets the residences apart from other new offerings in the city?
I believe that architecture should be specific to its location, context and program. At 21 East 12th Street, we were responding both to the immediate context of University Place and of Greenwich Village more generally. The building has punched windows and is clad in cast stone, which resonates with the classic prewar apartment buildings of Greenwich Village. By creating a 2-story podium base for the building we were able to set the upper portion back from the street, which allows more light to flow into the individual apartments but also onto the street itself. The storefront podium, which is punctuated with dark aluminum mullions, also provides an opportunity to continue the intimate retail tradition on University Place. I think people who choose to live in Greenwich Village have an appreciation for history and a human-scaled pedestrian street life. The building continues in that tradition but with modern amenities and generous apartment layouts that are comfortable for individuals, couples and families.
I think people really care about the quality of the space which they will call home. Well-proportioned, balanced spaces, with good light, provide a sense of calm and respite, that is needed more and more today. All the apartments are corner units, which allows for great natural light and are also very flexible in their layouts. The shared garden terrace at the 3rd level will be a special place for all the building owners to enjoy.
You have built quite a reputation in the arena of exhibition and gallery design. Did you reference these types of spaces in the new building?
I think every type of project informs another: all successful architectural projects must have a concern for human scale: how the body feels in space, what it feels like to be in a room etc. I think all our work has a very keen sense of human proportion and scale that we are able to bring to our building projects be they cultural or residential.
And on a more personal note, what led you to pursue a career in architecture?
I come from a family of designers and my father was an architect so in some ways it might have been inevitable that I would become an architect as well. I did initially consider other things but quickly came to realize that architecture was a profession that would allow my creativity to work towards improving the world around me. I believe that architecture profoundly shapes our experience of the world and can contribute to making a more diverse, equitable and sustainable future.
Have you found it any more challenging being a female in what has largely been a boys’ club?
I am often asked this question and I have responded somewhat glibly in the past that I don’t know—being a female architect is the only experience I have. But, of course it is much more complicated than that, and I do think that there is an added challenge of working in a male-dominated field. I may have had to prove myself even more than my male counterparts when I was starting out. Things are certainly changing but there is still a long way to go to achieve equity in the field.
What have been your greatest sources of inspiration?
I am inspired by so many things—certainly by much in the visual arts but I think that one of the greatest things about being an architect is the diversity of the people you get to interact with regularly from amazing colleagues and clients to other collaborators and builders and suppliers. Their passion and creativity drives me on a daily basis.