Situated in the vibrant, yet dense theater district of Manhattan’s midtown west, the residential tower at 242 West 53rd Street demonstrates a keen awareness of its surrounding urban context, offering an organic exterior expression that reflects the vitality of the surrounding city. The building embraces sustainable design techniques while taking distinctive approaches to massing and organization - represented in its dynamic exterior façade and undulating form.
At 60 stories tall, the building’s massing responds to various site and zoning constraints, illuminating creative solutions. These constraints include obstructed access to natural light and views by adjacent towers, as well as a subway tunnel running across the site that poses stringent limitations for the vertical loads on the northeast corner.
The design approach begins with an abstract ideal for a residential solution and shapes the massing in reaction to programmatic, contextual, and technical issues. Responding to its urban context, the structure makes more substantial shifts: improving sight-lines, maximizing sunlight exposure, and creating stepping terraces at the base. The northwest tip is chamfered, pulling the tower structure back where the impact on the subway tunnel is to be minimized. The northeast corner projects towards the street line, providing sight-lines down the avenue to the east and expanding the view to the west. This outward projection also increases the area from the lower to the higher floors – responding to programmatic needs of larger apartments towards the top of the structure. The organic exterior aesthetic that is informed by the dynamically shaped massing, in turn, echoes the fluidity of the architectural form and interior spaces of the building.
The project contains 426 rental apartments over 60 floors, reaching 786 feet in height. The comprehensive amenities at the podium as well as at the rooftop are divided into passive and active recreation. The stepped terraces provide a variety of outdoor spaces at different levels, creating relationships and a verticality of green spaces among the levels of the building. The horizontality of the podium, intersecting with the language of formal shifts established in the residential tower, generates a series of cascading layers. This provides for extended sight-lines and diagonal movement, resulting in an experience of unexpected connections for building occupants.
The facade design presents a singular graphic with various local deviations that address the project issues, while emphasizing the shifts in building form, visibly expressing the complex programmatic, contextual and structural challenges faced at the macro level. The facade experience at the micro level is composed of a collection of details that give scale and proportion while animating the façade. These structured, horizontally and vertically defined modules, compliment the diagonal movement of the façade’s form. The standard module of the façade is a double layer skin, designed with an outer solid (screen) layer with a narrow offset from an inner glass layer. Six module types shift the building skin’s two layers both in parallel and independently, creating additional opportunities for occupiable space and differentiating living experiences throughout the building.
The screen elements are deployed in a repetitive, staggered pattern to project vertical and horizontal continuity, producing the reading of a skin enveloping the building form. The regularity, put in contrast to the local variations, privileges the reading of the massing over the skin.
The façade’s organic aesthetic is backed by sustainable features. The overhangs become a multi-functional element as an aesthetic feature and balcony space, as well as a passive shading component. The curtain wall embraces high performance low-e coated insulated glass that varies its reflectivity according to cardinal orientation: the south incorporates highly reflective glass to reduce solar gain, and the north, clear floor-to-ceiling glass that increases exposure to natural light and desired views. The low-e glass insulates the structure, minimizing heat transfer along with the thermal breaks that are incorporated throughout the façade.
The resulting building presents a harmonious aesthetic paired with green technologies, pushing the boundaries of multi-residential design. This animated structure reflects the vitality of the surrounding neighborhood, while embracing the contemporary urban living experience.
CetraRuddy is an international award-winning architecture, planning and interior design firm based in New York City. For over 29 years, the firm has been led with a guiding principle that architecture and design must engage its context while enriching the human spirit. The firm’s portfolio of distinguished work, defined by analytic problem solving, contextual sensitivity, crafted details and innovative use of materials, reflect an underlying commitment to the human experience at all scales and across typologies including multifamily housing, hospitality, education, cultural and commercial.
Founded by Principals John Cetra and Nancy J. Ruddy, the firm emphasizes a collaborative process, working together with clients and staff to apply a sophisticated understanding of programming, planning, technology and construction to each project, developing technically excellent and innovative designs and providing an unparalleled level of service.
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