Decoding Design

Branding designer buildings with starchitects names

Posting in Architecture

Tracing a recent trend to brand and market condominiums with the name of the starchitect who designed them.

If a person's home really is a reflection of that person, then I imagine that occupants of a Robert A.M. Stern residence are well behaved, if a little uptight, and that their condo association meetings run efficiently. Perhaps inhabitants of Nouvel Chelsea are somewhat severe and wear Prada. Residents of New York by Gehry might be whimsical and crumple up their aluminum recyclables, flatten them out, and crumple them up again.

All these statements, made in jest, assume some knowledge of who these designers are. New York developers, normally viewed as proponents of profit more than of good design, have been working to make superstar architects (and their superstar aesthetics) household names.

Condominium projects like New York by Gehry and Nouvel Chelsea let people live in spaces designed by the same architects who design cultural and civic institutions. The starchitect (a mashup of star and architect) stamped projects encourage the design savvy to buy, or rent, property. They also take personality driven marketing to another level, beyond the numerous existing designer condo projects that dot New York’s landscape (e.g. Blue by Bernard Tschumi, 40 Bond Street by Herzog and de Meuron, Yoo Downtown by Philippe Starck.) Using the architect’s name as the building’s name implies that the architect carries a certain cachet, the same as say, a luxury designer bag.

The impacts of a brand name building on the built environment, and on the architects, are mostly aesthetic. The constraints of New York’s urban context challenges the architects to apply signature innovations with restraint. For example, Frank Gehry’s New York is 870 feet tall, the tallest residential tower in the western hemisphere, and carries the designer’s characteristic folded, twisted metal façade. Using bay windows as a starting concept, Gehry exaggerates and warps the form and function of an otherwise conventional space in his one-of-a-kind way.

In his own namesake Chelsea, Jean Nouvel set hundreds of panes of glass at unique angles to create a dynamic façade made of conventional materials (glass panels and aluminum mullions). Instead of the modern design impulse to expose and articulate the structure, his façade emphasizes the system of the structure, but not the individual pieces (beams, joists, columns.)

Designer branded condominiums inject visual diversity into what can be a repetitive residential world of brownstones and stepped towers. Besides creating celebrities of Pritzker Prize winning architects, the buildings add another flavor to the city's streetscapes and skylines.

Images: Nouvel Chelsea, New York by Gehry, Philip Greenberg for New York by Gehry

Sun Kim

Contributing Editor

Contributing Editor Sun Joo Kim is an architect and creative consultant based in Boston. Her projects include design and master planning of museums, public institutions, hospitals, and university buildings across the U.S. She holds a degree from Carnegie Mellon University and is a member of the U.S. Green Building Council. Follow her on Twitter. Disclosure