Super starchitect Zaha Hadid Designs her first NYC building.
Zaha Hadid’s 11-story condo tower at 520 West 28th Street will be adjacent to the High Line.
Beating the odds might seem to come easy to Zaha Hadid, a female architect in a stubbornly male profession, and a prize-winning one at that. Although the Iraq-born, London-based designer has been active in this country for more than a decade, Hadid, 63, can’t lay claim to any buildings in New York City, despite a recent flood of similar talent.
That’s about to change. After some earlier failed tries, Hadid has designed her first permanent city building, a crystalline 11-story condo that’s now rising at 520 West 28th Street, near 10th Avenue in West Chelsea, and practically nuzzling the elevated High Line park.
And even if the area glitters with well-known designers—buildings by Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, and Robert A.M. Stern are close by—Hadid’s will outshine them, its marketers say.
“There are many top-tier architects from around the world here,” says Greg Gushee, a senior vice president at the Related Companies (60 Columbus Circle, 212-801-1000), which is developing the building, “but we’re convinced this will be the best in the neighborhood.”
Smallish, with just 39 apartments and 180,000 square feet, the two-winged building nevertheless seems intent on making a big statement; in place of typical right-angled corners, for instance, are smooth curves, which—along with fins that protrude between floors—evoke a mid-century automobile. Though few in number, the apartments will be airy and spacious; they will range from two-bedrooms, with about 2,000 square feet, according to Related, to units with either four or five bedrooms and 5,800 square feet. Many of the apartments will also boast deep-set terraces, some of which will sit a Studebaker’s length away from the High Line’s greenery. Residents can also splash in an indoor pool, which will be tucked below ground with a spa and gym. In line with other condos coming to market in the city, though high for West Chelsea, apartments will be priced well over $3,000 a square foot, Gushee says, meaning two-bedrooms will start at more than $6 million. He would not disclose the development cost.
The building will have just 39 units, ranging from 2,000 to 5,800 square feet.
The Hadid imprimatur may explain some of those extra dollars—a “starchitect,” as designers of her ilk are now known, can account for a hefty 50 percent premium, say brokers, who add that developers shell out at least 30 percent more for their services.
This despite the fact the starchitect effect can be overstated in the area, where a marquee designer seems to be behind every building. Indeed, 100 11th Avenue, a 72-unit condo tower, is from Jean Nouvel, for instance, and under development nearby is 551 West 21st Street, a 44-unit offering from Norman Foster. Even office buildings got star treatment—the billowing IAC Building at 550 West 18th Street is Frank Gehry’s.
Beyond offering bragging rights, these architects can also function like the ultimate quality-control inspectors, says Toni Haber, a longtime broker with Douglas Elliman Real Estate: “They can give a building credibility and provide more certainty about the product.” Haber added that many of the foreign ones, like Hadid, whose portfolio is largely located in Asia, Europe, and the Middle East, have a following overseas, which in turn attracts the international buyers who are so prevalent in this market.
Born in Iraq in 1950, and studying in Beirut before attending London’s Architectural Association School, Hadid didn’t complete her first building (a firehouse in Weil am Rhein, Germany) until the early 1990s. Yet her rise was fast. In 2004, she became the first woman to win the prestigious Pritzker architecture prize, while also netting two Stirling prizes, a British award, in 2010 and 2011.
Still, New York City has proved an elusive quarry. In the mid-1990s, she was one of three finalists for a Times Square hotel project, on Eighth Avenue and West 42nd Street, but lost to Miami-based Arquitectonica. Another miss came in 2004 with a planned retro-futuristic edifice for art dealer Kenny Schachter, on Charles Street in the West Village, before he sold the site and moved.
A rendering of a unit with a plunge pool.
Hadid also sought to convert train tracks atop a trestle just west of 10th Avenue into a park, though that commission, for the High Line, went to Diller Scofidio + Renfro. “Decades ago, I used to visit the galleries in the area and consider how to build along the route,” Hadid says.
The 520 West 28th Street project, which broke ground in March and is expected to open by early 2016, might nab Hadid another milestone—her first US residential building, though it’s vying with a condo under way in Miami, the $300 million, 62-story One Thousand Museum, which is also supposed to be completed in 2016.
It could also represent a breakthrough of a different type, a high-profile work by a woman in a profession where they make up just 25 percent of the staff at most firms, according to a 2012 survey by the American Institute of Architects. And that’s despite the fact that 40 percent of the students at architecture schools are female, reports indicate.
In New York, women designers, such as Annabelle Selldorf, Deborah Berke, and Nancy Ruddy, are developing legacies. But even Hadid admits challenges persist.
“In the last 15 years there’s been tremendous change, and now it’s seen as normal to have women in this profession,” Hadid says. But, “it’s not as if I just appear somewhere and everybody says ‘yes’ to me; it’s still a struggle, despite having gone through it a hundred times.”
photography by Ben Pruchnie/Getty Images for Pace London (hadid)