The City in Transition: Gansevoort Market

Matthew Baird’s 829 Greenwich Street (left); Junya Ishigami’s Yamamoto boutique (right).

Fran Leadon

New York City has gone through tremendous changes since the last edition of the AIA Guide in 2000. The upcoming fifth edition (Oxford University Press, 2010) will reveal a city in transition: the aftermath of September 11, the Boom, the Bust, and the emergence of neighborhoods (Gansevoort Market, West Chelsea, DUMBO) that were barely even mentioned in the fourth edition.

The Guide‘s fourth edition dedicated only one short paragraph to Gansevoort Market; it wasn’t really a neighborhood. In 2000, it was still very much the city’s gritty meat market, punctuated here and there by a hipster bar or a design studio. It was a world populated by butchers in blood-soaked smocks taking cigarette breaks on loading docks. The rusty, abandoned High Line snaked overhead. It was, according to the fourth edition, “busy, chaotic, earthy from before sunrise well into the day…empty, eerie, scary at night.”

For the fifth edition we have created an entire section devoted to Gansevoort, joining parts of the Village and Chelsea, and using the High Line as a thread that links the new neighborhood to the emergent enclave of West Chelsea. We are trying to describe Gansevoort at this particular moment of transition, when supermodels and butchers occupy the same space, side by side. Here are some excerpts from the upcoming edition:

Gansevoort Market, also known locally as the Meatpacking District, lies roughly between Ninth Avenue and the Hudson River, from Gansevoort Street north to 14th. From these wholesale meat markets came the beef for many of Manhattan’s restaurants and institutions. The cobblestone streets remain, but no longer run as deeply with the blood of sectioned livestock, although you may still encounter cattle carcasses hanging out to dry. Gentrification has been happening for at least a decade here, but the conversion of the High Line to a linear park promises to preserve its melancholy vistas while connecting the area to West Chelsea and spurring even more development.

829 Greenwich Street (house), bet. Horatio and Gansevoort Sts. 2005. Matthew Baird.
A small but uncompromising exercise in weight and weightlessness from the modernist Baird. Impossible to miss is the forty-foot high rusted steel “billboard” bolted to the facade. A funny take on privacy: the residents can peek out, barely. Don’t feel bad for them, though: the entire back of the building, not visible from the street, is glass. Baird’s billboard, emphasizing the vertical, works surprisingly well with Morris Adjmi’s horizontally-obsessed building next door at 40 Gansevoort.

Yamamoto (clothing boutique), 1 Gansevoort St. at crossing of W.13th & Hudson Sts. 2008. Junya Ishigami.
A drastic, but ingenious, approach to the adaptive re-use of old buildings. Japanese architect Ishigami has performed invasive but beautiful surgery on an existing brick shed, removing layers of green paint, punching big openings in the façade, and last but not least, slicing the building into two parts. One half is now a light-filled showroom and the other half provides storage and office space. The showroom gleams like a lantern at night, and comes to a razor-sharp point where Gansevoort and West 13th meet.