Tag Archives: soho

Max Mara Soho

Max Mara Soho in New York, NY by Duccio Grassi Architects, 2001.

New York City's Soho district has evolved over time from industrial and manufacturing uses to artists' lofts and galleries to its most recent incarnation as a fashionable area, primarily littered with retail and restaurants. The change from industrial to commercial has not drastically changed the fabric of Soho, since most new uses have primarily renovated existing buildings. Max Mara, on West Broadway, is an exception with two levels of new construction containing the fashion company's signature women's clothing.

Rather than continuing the lot-line storefronts of adjacent buildings, the architects, Italy's Duccio Grassi Architects, cut back the entry at an angle to the street. Horizontal wood slats extend over a display space cut at another angle, returning to the sidewalk. Inside, the first floor extends back in an "L"-shape (click here for plan), exposed wood bow trusses and skylights giving an open feel to the space. The visitor can walk down concrete stairs to the lower level, a partially double-height space equally full of light from the skylights and portions of glass floor.

The small store has many qualities, including light, geometry - the combination of street grid and angle of the structure and facade - and texture. The last quality is evident in the variety of concrete work - smooth floors and rough, undulating precast panels - and their contrast with wood slats, both inside and outside, and a parallelogram-shaped wood drawer wall.

Duccio Grassi Architects have created an environment that contrasts the clothing it contains. While the environment is rough and imperfect, the clothes are smooth and precise. This contrast extends to the stores existence in Soho. As Max Mara embodies the evolution of the area, it breaks out of the loft mold and becomes its own object.

[Google Earth link]

Water Tower

Water Tower

Water Tower in New York, NY by Rachel Whiteread, 1998.

British artist Rachel Whiteread's first U.S. commission, Water Tower, is a translucent resin cast of a wooden water tank, raised seven stories above the streets of Soho. Recipient of the Turner Prize in 1993 (the first woman to do so) for her installation House, a concrete cast of the interior of a soon-to-be-demolished East London house, Whiteread continues her investigations into the relationship between art and urban society. Her reversal of matter and space in House gave the interior space a physical presence, a tangibility. Water Tower is not a simple inversion; its untouchable presence on the skyline provoking thought on it, and art's, place within the city.

Erected from an old wooden water tank, reinforced with three-inch-thick walls, the resin tank sits between two working water towers, the inspiration for Whiteread's response. Shying away from obvious locations for public art, and the commotion at street level, a view from under the Brooklyn Bridge at the silhouetted water towers cemented her idea: a piece of public art that dissolves into the background structure of the city, while questioning how people relate to the(ir) city. Most New Yorkers may believe that the water towers dotting the city are ugly, but they are part of the architectural vocabulary of that place, and Whiteread's piece celebrates that fact.

The 12' x 9' diam. monolith is easily a presentation of contained vs. container, though this conclusion is limiting. The poetic possibilities of the work are evident in these photographs, a quiet glimmer in the city's visual cacophony. The material is perfect for both proclaiming itself or disappearing based on the viewer's relationship to it, in terms of angle and distance, and the environment. And in relation to much public art that is produced for cities Water Tower confuses the standard that public art must be an object in a space (think Picasso's famous sculpture in Daley Plaza in Chicago), as it is just that while simultaneously being the opposite.

Of course the piece is material and does occupy space, indicating that one of the most important aspects of its brief existence (unfortunately the Water Tower came down in mid-2000) is our relationship to, and perceptions of, it. And if Rachel Whiteread's goal was to push people to think about their surroundings in new and different ways, then the long-term effects are almost limitless.

SoHo Loft

SoHo Loft

SoHo Loft in New York, NY by Architecture Research Office (ARO), 1999.

The following text and images are by the New York firm Architecture Research Office for a 7,000 square-foot SoHo loft, completed in 1999.

This residence, which occupies the 6th floor, 7th floor and roof of a former SoHo warehouse, is flooded with natural light from several exposures. The design responds to the daily and seasonal cycles of the sun; new openings in the existing walls, floor and roof connect the levels, allowing increased light, views and movement throughout the interior. New walls create intimate areas for private activities while retaining the loft's essentially open plan.

The position of the sun during the day determined the distribution of the main living spaces on the 7th floor. The master bedroom receives morning light from the east; the kitchen and dining room face south; west light enters the living room; indirect north light diffuses into the library.

Materials were selected and detailed for their light-related qualities: color, texture, reflectivity and transparency. Roof plantings add another layer of light-related animation to the residence.

Wooster Street Loft

Wooster Street Loft

Wooster Street Loft in New York, NY by Archi-Tectonics, 1998.

The following project and text are by Winka Dubbeldam of New York City.


For the Wooster St. project, we were asked to adapt the 5th floor of a converted SOHO loft building to residential space for an art collector. This highly urban living condition reflects the "nomadic" quality of today's metropolis. As the owner moves between london and new york, the internet is the primary mode of communication.


LOFT = existing space, manipulated. Reconstituted with additions and divisions, standard residential elements reformulated, to create spatial continuities.

In the design for the loft, different zones are generated - public / private / guest areas, and a concept of "connective cuts" is developed. Planes are introduced as connective membranes not only by means of translucency, but rather by the slicing of these planes, seperating them into suspended, floating, and pivoting elements.


A kitchen is spaced within the fold of a wall section, its work surfaces suspended. As the section plane is sliced, one is within several rooms, once within the kitchen. Even the water from the shower can be seen and heard, the heat from which can be seen as steam collects on the surfaces of the glass.

A fireplace stands as it's own entity, seperate from the existing wall it is a part of and cut to form the hearth. Again, the fire can be seen and heard, the heat from which can be seen as it alters the view of the space behind and through it.

A free-floating bathroom capsule, the functions of which all sculpted in one element, wrapped in a series of glass planes which serves to divide spaces only physically.


As a result, areas or fields of occupation have formed, with fluid, continuous space flowing between them. Texture changes in the walls, floors and windows further designate these areas as hard, soft and neutral spaces. Doors and enclosures are replaced by shifts in volume, and transitions into different areas become "hinge-points", while providing visual privacy. Overall, the continuity of these interlocking volumes creates a residence of overlapping intersections and interweaving space.

Lieutenant Petrosino Park

Lieutenant Petrosino Park

Lieutenant Petrosino Park in New York, NY by I-Beam Design, 1996.

This is I-Beam Design's (Azin Valy & Suzan Wines) submission for the Biennale di Venezia, proposed for the intersection of the Soho, Chinatown and Little Italy areas of New York city. The text is written by I-Beam Design.

The proposed design creates a programmatic, cultural and spatial connection between Lt. Petrosino Park and its surroundings. A hanging garden extends from the facades of the surrounding buildings to a series of columns within the park. Neighboring residents are invited to participate directly from their windows in selecting, growing and planting the flowering vines and ivy that constitute the garden. This simple gesture provides animated patterns of light and shade at street level, and a view of the entire street through a levitating tapestry of rich greenery and brightly colored flowers from the windows above.

The existing 7000 square foot park is located at the intersection of Lafayette and Kenmare streets at the threshold between Chinatown, Little Italy and Soho. The simple framework of cables and columns also provides an ideal structure for a variety of community interventions. The Italian community may decorate the columns and cables with shimmering lights during the San Gennaro Festival or Christmas, while the Chinese could use the park for hanging elaborately colored lanterns or dragons during the Chinese New Year festivities. During the summer local artists may hang projection screens for film and video festivals or create sculptural works that use the columns as a structural base. Participation may be as passive as simply smelling the flowers at the window or as as active as designing special features for park events and the customization of your own window box. The design of the structure and landscape allows the park to function like a flexible extension of New York City's urban fabric, incorporating a variety of diverse contributions into an ever-changing collage of city culture and vegetation.

By using the sky plane as a garden, the design reduces noise and air pollution to the surrounding residences, puts planting out of the reach of vandals and adds a whole new level of interest from the ground level. Spatially the pergola serves to integrate the streets, sidewalks and building facades into the park, creating a kind of giant exterior room whose walls, floor and ceiling are alive with the energy of the community. Within the park, areas for seating, playing and entertainment are integrated into a playful unfolding landscape of paving, planting and water that inspires joy and interaction between people and the parkscape itself. This is a living park, transformed each season by the imagination of its users.

Storefront for Art and Architecture

Storefront for Art and Architecture

Storefront for Art and Architecture in New York, NY by Steven Holl and Vito Acconci, 1993.

Opened in 1993, the facade renovation for the Storefront for Art and Architecture was constructed on a budget of only $45,000. Architect Steven Holl and artist Vito Acconci's concept for the project of inside becoming outside is achieved by composing the facade with hinged panels. Each panel's unique shape, relationship to other panels, and open or closed condition creates, when combined with environmental conditions, a different facade each day. The design takes its concept and finds a clear solution within a small budget, but the project is also indicative of much of Holl's work in its focus on creating space through detailing, proportion, and the manipulation of light.

Pie-shaped in plan, the design opens to the street on one facade; the other wall is part of the building the Storefront is encased in. The long, solid wall is treated as gallery space, while the "fat" part of the plan is used for an office and storage. The narrow space of the gallery forces the visitor to confront the works presented. It is possible to glimpse what is on display through the exterior panels, but when inside one is caught in an ever contracting space.

Experiencing the space it is easy to see why many artists and architects have decided to create installations specific to the Storefront. Being there it is difficult to decide between paying attention to the work displayed or the space and the panels in their seemingly random juxtaposition. This randomness is anything but random though, in Holl's utilization of the golden section and other Renaissance-era rules of proportion. Although Holl's use of these rules does not contain the same meaning as when they originated, he carries a belief in the ability to fine-tune a design using these same rules, which many contemporary architects have abandoned.

The total perception of architectural spaces depends as much on the material and detail of the haptick realm as the taste of a meal depends on the flavors of authentic ingredients.   -Steven Holl

Although constructed on a minimal budget the Storefront contains a level of detail not found in much construction of equal cost. The exterior panels are a supraboard face with metal reveals, and the gallery space is white gypsum board. Inside the remnants of the structure's old uses are found in the columns, floor and ceiling. Whether for budgetary reasons or effect, the decision creates a strong contrast between old and new, but also gives a hint of inspiration (for example the screw-heads of the exterior panels echo the bolts on the interior columns).

The most dramatic effect of the design is the relationship between the interior space and the street outside, of which light plays a great role. The different configurations of panels, coupled with the ever-changing exterior weather conditions, creates unique vignettes of the city from the inside, while changing the framed glimpses into the gallery. The use of irregularly shaped openings has reappeared in much of Holl's work since, though not necessarily to as strong an effect. Perhaps here he was given the most freedom, able to create a solution that does not completely control the building's influence and relation to the environment: a kinetic architecture.

[Google Earth link]