UNStudio Gets First Major U.S. Project

May 19, 2008

By David Sokol

Ben van Berkel, cofounder of UNStudio with Caroline Bos, recently unveiled designs for Five Franklin Place, a condominium tower that will rise in Manhattan’s swanky Tribeca neighborhood. The project, whose 55 units range in price from $2 million to $16 million, is the Amsterdam-based architecture firm’s first major building in the United States. It is being developed by New York–based business partners David Kislin and Leo Tsimmer.

Five Franklin Place, a condominium tower that will rise in Manhattan’s swanky Tribeca neighborhood
Image courtesy UNStudio
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Because Five Franklin Place is located just outside Tribeca’s designated preservation zone, van Berkel was not bound by the city’s Landmark Preservation Commission rules. While the building is decidedly contemporary, the Dutch architect explains that the historic neighborhood’s street system and cast-iron aesthetic informed the design of the facade, particularly its shiny black metal bands. These elements vary in shape and thickness and wrap around the building’s corners, moves that van Berkel compares to Lower Manhattan’s warren of thoroughfares. And although the architect considers the bands a kind of “dressing” in which Five Franklin Place is cloaked, they serve as brise soleil to shade homeowners. Moreover, the bands alternate in depth to form balconies and terraces.

The interior design of Five Franklin Place also responds to place. UNStudio divided the 20-story building into three zones that correspond to the amount of sunlight available to units. Floors two through seven, for instance, contain double-height loft residences to maximize daylight, and light-colored surfaces to reflect it. Mezzanines are placed in the center of these lofts, instead of at one end—a layout that allows for greater light penetration, according to van Berkel.

All units are lushly appointed. In some, glass tambour doors surround bathrooms adjacent to bedrooms, allowing for privacy or openness. “It’s almost like you’re on holiday,” van Berkel says of linking bedroom and bath, a concept that gained popularity in hotel design. The tower’s top two floors are turned over to three penthouses offering fireplaces, private elevators, and other deluxe amenities. Views of the Financial District and Midtown are seemingly doubled, reflected in the facade’s highly polished bands. The movement of these black belts is echoed throughout the building’s interior, from curved walls to sculptural fixtures. 

Construction began this spring and should be finished within two years. Another UNStudio project, VilLA NM, a 2007 Record House, was destroyed by fire earlier this year (“Fire Destroys UNStudio’s VilLA NM”).


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