Mr. Gehry first tried to break into the city’s architectural scene in the early 1980s, when he was hired to design a town house for the Upper East Side doyenne Christophe de Menil. The project ended in tears for Mr. Gehry when she fired him over a glass of Champagne.
Nearly 20 years later, his proposal for a mega- Guggenheim Museum on the East River was shelved for lack of funds. His plan for the colossal Atlantic Yards development in Brooklyn remains a pet target of grass-roots activists. And his first major New York building, a headquarters for the media and Internet conglomerate IAC on the West Side Highway, was recently disfigured by an enormous logo.
So Mr. Gehry’s 76-story Beekman Tower, which is built just south of City Hall and whose latest design was long overdue but worth the wait.
Rising just south of the entry ramps to the Brooklyn Bridge, it joins an imposing cluster of landmarks around City Hall, including Cass Gilbert’s 1913 neo-Gothic Woolworth Building and McKim, Mead & White’s 1914 Municipal Building, early examples of the city’s deep romance with the sky. Draped over a classical shell, the tower’s crinkled steel skin is proof that the skyscraper has yet to exhaust itself as an urban art form.
Just as important, the design suggests that the city is slowly if hesitantly recovering from the trauma of 9/11. Only a few years ago, as plans were readied for a bunkerlike Freedom Tower downtown, it seemed as if the Manhattan skyline would be marred by jingoism and fear.
Mr. Gehry’s tower, by contrast, harks back to the euphoric aspirations of an earlier age without succumbing to nostalgia. Like Jean Nouvel’s recently unveiled design for a West 53rd Street tower, which suggests shards of glass tumbling from the sky, it signals that the city is finally emerging from a long period of creative exhaustion.
The design has evolved through an unusual public-private partnership. In an agreement with New York education officials, the tower’s developer, Forest City Ratner, agreed to incorporate a public elementary school into the project. Forest City was responsible for the construction of the school; the Department of Education then bought the building from the developer. (Forest City was also a development partner in the new Midtown headquarters of The New York Times Company.)
The Beekman Tower is thus a curious fusion of public and private zones. Clad in simple red brick, the school will occupy the first five floors of the building. Atop this base will be the elaborate stainless-steel form of the residential tower, which will have its own entrance along a covered porte-cochere between Beekman and Spruce Streets.
Only a few blocks from ground zero and Wall Street, the shimmering tower’s hypnotic pull will significantly reconfigure the downtown skyline.
A classical T-shaped plan and sharp corners give the building an unexpected heft. As the structure rises, its forms will step back slightly, subtly breaking down the scale and bringing to mind a series of stacked toy blocks. The pattern shifts at each break, setting the composition slightly off balance and injecting an appealing sense of vulnerability.
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