Morris Adjmi Architects

16 West 21st

23,000 square feet
15 stories, 11 units
New York, New York

Translucent glass forms define the facade of this 15-story residential building, which celebrates the spirit of architectural innovation that gave rise to the large neoclassical department stores of the Ladies’ Mile Historic District.

Situated on a thin slice of land in the center of the Ladies’ Mile Historic District, this 15-story residential building resonates with its historic context not by imitating the forms of the district’s architecture but by innovating in the spirit that first inspired those forms. Ladies’ Mile is named after a stretch of Broadway that became a popular shopping district in the nineteenth century when the rise of mass production and ready-to-wear clothing spurred the construction of large department stores. Many of these new buildings were designed by architects who had participated in the 1893 World’s Columbian Exposition; the white brick and limestone facades were directly influenced by the neoclassical structures that led the exposition to be nicknamed the “White City.” But Ladies’ Mile’s staid Beaux-Arts facades belie a technological sophistication: cast iron and structural steel made it relatively easy and economical to create large, flexible loft spaces clad with elaborate ornamental facades.

The classically composed facade at 16 West 21st Street is built entirely of translucent glass that has been slumped, pressed, and carved to imitate brick, stone, and steel. Glass beams divide the floors, translucent glass pilasters separate the bays, and the glass base imitates the rustication seen on historic buildings in the area. The building front reproduces the tectonic rhythms of those older buildings with superscaled, rounded columns and lintels—elemental forms that also invoke Il Palazzo in Fukuoka, Japan, and the Scholastic Building in SoHo, both of which reflect a fascination with New York’s historic architecture.