520 West 28th Street
The sharply futuristic glazed form of Zaha Hadid Architects’ residential project flaunts its steel curves along the High Line while offering luxurious homes for a privileged few.
Af Finn MacLeod
When living adjacent to New York City’s iconic High Line, privacy is not the norm. Visited by more than 7 million people every year, the elevated pathway is one of the city’s most popular tourist attractions, rivaling the city’s established landmarks in annual visitor numbers. While once considered undesirable real estate, property values along the High Line’s 2.3-kilometer span have soared since the first phase reached completion in 2009, attracting the city’s development and architectural elite. Designed by Diller Scofidio + Renfro, and flanked by now-iconic structures designed by Frank Gehry, Renzo Piano, and the nearly-complete Thomas Heatherwick-designed “vessel” at Hudson Yards, the districts surrounding the High Line have become an architectural playground for the world’s most prolific designers.
Enter 520 West 28th Street by Zaha Hadid Architects (ZHA), an 11-story luxury residential building anchored at street level by a series of high-end art galleries. Home to a mere 39 residences, the building is modest in size, but ostentatious in its appearance. While the building embodies Zaha’s signature curvaceous and futuristic approach, its shape is pure, sensible New York design. Here, the firm’s white polished curves and concrete planes of projects past are replaced by a restrained yet sophisticated and powerful low-rise design, clad in tinted and brushed steel.
Relentlessly eye-catching, the building’s sinuous curves are unlike anything in the immediate landscape. Framed by Chelsea’s signature low-rise warehouses—a reality that has begun to shift as Manhattan’s skyscraper boom reaches further south—and soaring glass towers, 520 West 28th Street stands out.
The building features an organized exterior of staggered balconies, extruded windows, and sunken surfaces, ensuring that no two exterior views are the same. From one façade to the next, the building is virtually unrecognizable: parametric curves appear to elastically hold the building’s cantilevered balconies in place, creating a zig-zagging effect to enliven two otherwise glass-clad facades. Perhaps its most futuristic element, the building’s fishbowl-like balconies jut from the exterior, punctuating the façade and creating a visual hierarchy from base to the penthouse, where units begin to recede and privacy becomes a possibility—albeit unlikely.
When viewed from the High Line, 520 West 28th Street is awe-inspiring, dynamic, and particularly transparent. Its unorthodox angles and bizarre shapes create curious optical illusions, drawing the eye across its worn surfaces. Its expansive glass walls encourage voyeurism as passersby have the opportunity to engage, at eye-level at times, with the building’s occupants. From the street, the building appears as if gently dropped into the city from a subsequent century, drawing a sharp but necessary contrast with its historic red-brick neighbors.
Inside, in true Zaha fashion, the building’s spaces are dramatic, beautiful, and meticulously designed. Its signature curves carry through every room, including the building’s pool, where a Zaha Hadid-designed precast concrete relief evokes the movement of waves of the water below. Its lobbies are expansive, daylit, and adorned with Zaha Hadid-designed furniture. The residential kitchens, realized by Zaha Hadid Design for Boffi, show the architect’s linear and minimalist tendencies, deferring visual interest to immense curved windows that seem to slice through walls and floor plates with the preciseness for which Zaha became known. The units themselves are not unlike typical luxury New York residences, offering amenities like private elevator lobbies, a sculpture garden, and a residents-only IMAX theatre.
Most remarkable about the building is its unabashed dedication to futurism in a landscape typified by adaptive reuse or outright demolition. As Zaha Hadid Architects’ first and only built project in New York City, 520 West 28th Street is in a league all of its own, occupying a unique space in a real estate market made for admirers of Zaha’s brand of simultaneously eccentric and logical design. To live here is not merely to desire great views of the High Line or to want 11-foot ceilings — although they are standard offers — to live here is celebrate the zany elegance of Zaha’s parametric world firsthand.