Ben Van Berkel's First Major American Building Begins Construction in New York City

Ben Van Berkel's First Major American Building Begins Construction in New York City

In 1998, Dutch architect Ben van Berkel, co-founder of UNStudio, Amsterdam, captured the imaginations of design cognoscenti around the world with the Möbius House, a remarkable private residence in Het Gooi, the Netherlands. Nestled on a sylvan site northeast of Amsterdam, the Möbius House gave physical expression to the fluctuating domesticity of modern life in an endlessly looping form of concrete and glass, containing luminous interiors where interlocking private and public areas defied all previous convention. With the Möbius House, van Berkel illustrated his belief that things evolve and change - both architecture and family life are elastic - and that orthodoxies exist to be challenged, including the increasingly stale tropes of glass-sheathed, square box Modernism. Featured in the landmark 1999 exhibition The Un-Private House at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City, the Möbius House was soon followed by a spate of ever more daring museums, university buildings, corporate structures, residences and industrial design projects that established Ben van Berkel as one of the most significant and critically acclaimed architects of his generation - a designer who embodies what mid-century Italian architect Ernesto Rogers exalted as "designing from the spoon to the city," connecting public and private worlds.

In conjunction with the 10th anniversary of the completion of the Möbius House, construction has begun in New York City on Ben van Berkel's latest, most ambitious and beautiful re-interpretation of standard domestic architecture: Five Franklin Place, UNStudio's first major American project, will be a 20-story residential tower on Franklin Place, an original 19th century cobbled passageway that runs parallel to Broadway and connects Franklin and White Streets in the Tribeca historic district of Downtown Manhattan. The building will be wrapped in an optically dazzling, constantly shifting pattern of horizontal black metal bands sewn onto its form the way decorative seams and pleats are sewn onto a luxurious couture garment. A direct homage to the applied metal facade decoration of Tribeca's celebrated 19th century cast iron architecture, these gleaming reflective ribbons will grow thinner and thicker, wrapping the entire tower and moving softly around corners to give the whole structure an etched effect and curvilinear softness, while reflecting the evolving light of day, the clouds and the colors of the city in one of the most dramatic compositions attempted in modern Manhattan's recent building boom.

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Van Berkel's highly decorative architectural garment is no mere graphic conceit: Thanks to strategic twisting and torquing, his facade bands will serve as essential functional elements of the tower as well, transforming into balconies for more than half of the building's residences, terraces for the penthouses at the top, and sunshades that deflect heat and protect all of the structure's interiors from excess sunlight. hese iconic metal bands will serve to also frame panoramic views from inside the building's residences and insure a level of intimacy and privacy at Five Franklin Place that would be impossible to achieve in a transparent glass facade building.

Equally important, the exterior geometries of Five Franklin Place will relate directly to the building's interiors, which will balance high glamour and cutting edge technology with a distinct atmosphere of warmth. The horizontal and mutable qualities of van Berkel's facade bands have been brought inside and translated into broad horizontal spatial arrangements; carefully placed curved walls that echo the soft corners of the ribbons outside and shift to allow for maximum flexibility in the use of rooms; balconies shaped to loop residents' movements back indoors; and highly-engineered, custom features and fixtures for kitchens and bathrooms designed by van Berkel and fabricated by renowned design manufacturer B&B Italia, to echo the shapes formed by the elegant facade treatment. Every interior element has been conceived to maximize light and the exceptional views - bathrooms for example, will have circular sliding doors so that baths can become part of bedrooms and share the same views - and to introduce an alternative to the now standardized rectilinear interiors of contemporary condominium architecture in New York City.

Containing 55 residences in three distinct zones, Five Franklin Place will stand on the frontier of the Tribeca historic district, which is today considered one of the world's most coveted addresses, in close proximity to such dynamic and desired neighborhoods as Soho, the West Village, the Financial District, Chinatown, and the bustling Lower East Side.

The homes within Five Franklin Place will range in size from approximately 1,200 square feet to approximately 3,400 square feet, and will include one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom apartments configured as duplex lofts or single-level homes, as well as three soaring duplex penthouses with interior elevators and rooftop terraces.

Prices for the properties at Five Franklin Place will range from $2 million to $16 million.

Five Franklin Place has been developed by David Kislin and Leo Tsimmer, principals of Sleepy Hudson LLC, which in 2007 completed construction of the elegant High Line 519 in West Chelsea. General contractor for the Five Franklin Place is Leeds United Construction LLC. Exclusive sales and marketing agent for the project is Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group.

"It seems fitting that Ben van Berkel's first major American building will be completed at the moment when New York City celebrates the 400th anniversary of the original Dutch settlement of Manhattan," commented the partners of Sleepy Hudson. "Ben has a pioneering, daring spirit, a global vision that we share. With Five Franklin Place, our entire team aspires to celebrate the art of building, to translate Ben's vision into a perfect local expression, and to prove that the sublime and the practical can exist side by side in a perfect place to live."

The Building: Loft Residences, City Residences, Sky Penthouses
Residents of Five Franklin Place will enter the building on Franklin Place, a narrow, cobbled north-south lane once known as Sugar Loaf Alley, the heart of New York City's 19th century sugar trade. Newly restored with period lighting, cleaned and re-pointed pavers, and lush vertical plantings, this historic passageway will offer an atmosphere evocative of Old New York and Tribeca's great past. Beyond a pair of silent, electronically controlled sliding doors and a climate controlled vestibule, the lobby of Five Franklin Place - overseen by a 24-hour doorman and an attendant offering valet parking service - will unfold as a distinctly sculptural but serene, softly lit environment of curving white lacquer fixtures, including built-in leather seating areas and a sparkling violet glass-chip floor. A sweeping curved stairwell will lead from the lobby to a sub-grade level private spa and fitness center. Custom designed by UNStudio and engineered by B&B Italia, this area offers residents a daylight flooded double-height weight room, a wet spa with mosaic tiled steam pavilion and sauna, and a mirrored multi-purpose room for yoga, pilates and stretching, all with towel and water service.

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In discussing UNStudio's priorities for Five Franklin Place, Ben van Berkel recently explained, "The building sits at the edge of the Tribeca Historic District, so that low lying structures fan out beneath it to the west and create amazing vistas. At the same time, the site sits squarely between two existing buildings, with the challenges this implies in an urban setting. Exploiting the light and views to the maximum extent was our priority. We started with the purpose and the program of any building: How will the users experience it, what will it be like to live and work and play inside?" Van Berkel and UNStudio answered these questions by conceiving Five Franklin Place as a tower in three portions. For each zone, the architects chose different color schemes and material palettes related to the amount of natural light that can be accessed in apartments at various levels of the building, attempting to work with that natural light and complement it, but not necessarily in expected ways. According to the architect, "On the lower floors where there is a need to maximize daylight, we have specified the lightest-colored floors and fixtures and wall colors throughout. On middle floors where there is more daylight because the residences are above adjacent buildings, we have a more cream-colored palette, softer because there is more natural light and less need to push for its reflection into the homes. And on the top levels of the building, where there is very abundant light, we have used richer, deeper colors and finishes in a very luxe way."

The lower part of Five Franklin Place is framed between neighboring buildings on two sides, north and south. On these floors - floors 2 through 7 - van Berkel created Loft Residences with 20' doubleheight living rooms and floating upper level mezzanines configured to bring daylight deep into the apartments. Whereas New York loft mezzanines are typically fixed at one end of an apartment, generating a tunnel effect that leaves a portion of the home very dark, UNStudio made a seemingly simple but radical move by shifting the mezzanines of the Loft Residences to the center of the floor plan. Each Loft Residence at Five Franklin place also enjoys a large vault with a soaring integral wall that turns from the kitchen into a library. The palette of finishes in these homes is pale, light and reflective, all to boost illumination into the entire home, including the large bathrooms and bedrooms as well as common spaces.

The City Residences on the middle floors of Five Franklin Place - floors 8 through 18 - are characterized by 270 degree views and generous floor plans with expansive paved terraces on the east and west sides of the building. Inspired by the gracious entry foyers of New York's great pre-War apartments, van Berkel worked to create an equally graceful 21st century interpretation: In every City Residence a custom wall panel frames the lacquered gallery foyer, creating a special space for art, and rooms unfold to flow into one another. As with the rest of the building, fixtures and finishes in this zone were developed with eye toward luxury and comfort, with baths sporting sliding glass tambour doors so that residents can adjust levels of privacy to be completely alone or to open their bathing space to views in rooms beyond.

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The three Sky Penthouses at the top of Five Franklin Place have spectacular panoramic views of the Manhattan's West Side to the Hudson River. Veritable houses in the sky, these homes are graced with an interior, cylindrical glass elevator wrapped by a curved, cantilevered floating staircase; operating fireplaces; master baths with panoramic views; and expansive ipe wood and travertine slab terraces with outdoor Sky Spas and entertaining areas.

Throughout all three zones of Five Franklin Place, residents will enjoy generously proportioned environments with meticulously conceived technological elements that bring the convenience of an iPod into the broader home experience. Key details range from computerized light level controls to carefully conceived adjustable windows and doors.

The B&B Italia Collaboration
Throughout Five Franklin Place, kitchens, baths, cabinetry and woodworking designed by Ben van Berkel and UNStudio will exhibit a level of innovation and master craftsmanship rarely seen in New York City condominium developments. This degree of excellence has been guaranteed by an intensive collaboration between the architects and the Contract Division of B&B Italia, one of Europe's most admired design manufacturers.

Sleepy Hudson brought B&B to the Five Franklin Place project to ensure the highest level of engineering expertise in achieving very precise and challenging original designs conceived exclusively for the building by its architect. Among these are bathrooms that qualify as text book studies in luxury customization, with continuous, built-in curvilinear components and sliding circular doors that allow residents to adjust levels of privacy on different occasions; custom closet systems with integrated drawers and partitioned hanging areas; fitness area features that include luxurious and somewhat avant garde interpretations of standard gym and spa components; and kitchens that, in the words of van Berkel, "don't really look like kitchens," with dynamic, thermoformed Corian and metal islands with flying cantilevered sections that can be used for dining or other functions, all achieved via techniques borrowed from the luxury automotive industry.

Summarizing his firm's approach to the residences at Five Franklin Place, Ben van Berkel commented, "Tribeca is a wonderful place with a fascinating history - an amazing architectural history, but also an interesting history of how artists have worked and lived in the district's buildings. In our view, those artists defined the neighborhood's lifestyle, the casual way that people occupy the lofts there, interpreting the spaces in unusual ways. Thinking about this, we wanted to create homes with some of that same casualness and flexibility. We did not want to over-define the rooms, because people today want to live with a sense of freedom and define these things for themselves even in the most luxurious homes. Our job was to bring the views indoors, to make a place that is truly embracing and comforting and pleasurable, and perhaps also to expand the definition of how we live at home."

The sales and design center for Five Franklin Place is located at 7 Harrison Street, at the corner of Staple Street between Greenwich and Hudson Streets in Tribeca.


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