The architecture boom that has gripped New York City for the past several years has left many indelible marks on the city’s skyline. Buildings by almost every big-name architect jostle with each other for breathing room on Manhattan’s western waterfront, and designing a towering New York landmark is now de rigueur for a Pritzker Prize-winning architect. Yet for his first project in the Big Apple, Tadao Ando opted to create something on a significantly smaller scale.

The Japanese architect’s seven-storey, seven-residence condominium, 152 Elizabeth Street, stands on a busy thoroughfare in Manhattan’s Nolita district. Instigated by the development firm Sumaida + Khurana and located on the site of a former garage, the concrete-and-glass structure took more than two years to construct. The newly completed building’s succinct design seamlessly brings together several Ando signatures.

There are the grandiose bodies of poured-in-place concrete, elegantly detailed with circular formwork ties. Wide glass panels wrap the building on all sides and levels, producing an ethereal counterpoint to the stately concrete. These are brought together by beams of burnished metal, which form the structural skeleton of the building. A final exterior flourish, a green wall on the southern façade, brings a dash of nature to the built-up urban landscape.

152 Elizabeth Street by Tadao Ando
The side façade features Ando’s trademark poured-in-place concrete panels, adorned with the evenly spaced holes left by Formwork. Floor-to-ceiling windows, outlined in slim mullion frames, and fitted with airport-quality glass, block outside noise. Photography: Naho Kubota

‘I wanted to use traditional building materials of this century – concrete, glass and metal,’ explains Ando. ‘I tried to make something unique with commonly found materials, a building that did not overpower the characteristics of surrounding buildings. I imagined a quiet place, where you could retreat from the hectic pace of urban life and be greeted by the sound of a water wall and a calmness once you enter the building.

For Ando, this meant incorporating echoes of earlier projects. At the entrance, a fog installation, a collaboration with Gabellini Sheppard Associates, adds an ephemeral mist – a reference to the public work, Silence, he created with Blair Associates at Carlos Place in London. Inside, a water wall flanks one side of the lobby, while a light slot, similar to the glass lengths Ando created for the Church of Light in Osaka, allows natural light to peek through. ‘The lobby was really thought of as a cocoon,’ says Sumaida + Khurana’s co-founder Amit Khurana, ‘a spatial experience.’

This same sensitivity continues into the apartments above, with interiors designed by Michael Gabellini of Gabellini Sheppard Associates. From the sharply cut-out reveals that outline the architectural features, imbuing a feeling of suspension, to the Dinesen oak floorboards and monolithic kitchen islands, there is no lack of showstoppers here. As a backdrop to all this, each of the expansive windows showcases a view of the city around it.

‘In traditional Japanese architecture, shakkei [incorporating the background landscape in a design] is often used as a way of framing nature and creating a permeable boundary between interior and exterior,’ says Ando. ‘New York seemed to be the perfect location for an urban shakkei.’

152 Elizabeth Street entrance lobby
The entrance lobby also features a section of the water wall in the vestibule, grey granite mosaic floors and custom lighting by Cooley Monato. Photography: Naho Kubota

Witnessing Ando’s deft hand at this intimate scale is what makes the project memorable. For Khurana and his business partner Saif Sumaida, who are committed to working with their favourite architects, especially if they have yet to build in New York, it is all part of creating a new paradigm in real-estate development. The firm is currently developing Álvaro Siza’s first tower in New York on West 56th Street with the real-estate firm Leny.

At 152 Elizabeth Street, says Sumaida, ‘we had a hand in the original vision and the actual construction, so our role was very fulfilling’. It was the firm’s deep understanding of architecture that ultimately won Ando over. ‘I told him we wanted to build something that is not about marketing,’ Khurana recalls. ‘We wanted it to be about pure design.’

‘I was intrigued because the project site and its scale were just right, and rather opposite of the extreme skyscraper building rush taking place in New York,’ says Ando, adding that the project also reflects a key design philosophy: ‘I believe understanding and designing a house or an apartment is the core of architectural design. Without privacy, there is no public.’ §

As originally featured in the January 2019 issue of Wallpaper* (W*238)