Kriston Capps is a staff writer for CityLab covering housing, architecture, and politics. He previously worked as a senior editor for Architect magazine.
A new Manhattan development is geared towards rich, "creative" people who want all the glamor of the wretched 19th century, but also really nice hardwood floors.
Every so often, circumstances conspire to deliver a perfect send-up of an unfortunate national trend. This is not one of those moments. This is a story where all of us lose.
A new luxury development called 15 Renwick in New York is giving built form to steampunk. That's right, steampunk: that dark, Victoriana-obsessed cousin of Renaissance festivals and Star Trek conventions is now a theme for condos. I'm sorry to report that it gets worse: Steampunk is the entire pitch for the building.
That's right: Those are sloops and frigates parked along Manhattan's West Side. Contrary to the rendering above, 15 Renwick isn't some kind of steam-powered estate floating gayly on the Hudson. It's an 11-story, 31-unit building just off Canal Street in Hudson Square, the neighborhood that the New York Observer called "the last corner of undeveloped Manhattan" in 2012.
The project, which is nearing completion now, looks like the last stop along a tour designed by Jules Verne (Journey to the Center of New York Real Estate). Renderings of the building's condos, townhouses, and penthouses feature residents who all appear to be socially well-adjusted. I'm kidding: They look like people who think New York was better back when it was called New Amsterdam.
Renwick Street and the building alike take their names from 19th-century Columbia University engineer James Renwick, and his better-known son, James Renwick, Jr., the architect who designed such iconic buildings as the Smithsonian Institution's Castle. But 15 Renwick doesn't have anything to do with Romanesque Revival architecture. The building is the work of ODA Architecture, whose lead, Eran Chen, boasts a number of credible multifamily projects in New York.
The condos, townhouses, and penthouses—which are still selling, from between $2.4 million to $7.1 million—are tricked out with walnut flooring and bleeding-edge appliances. (Including units already sold, the overall price range runs from $1.9 million to $10.5 million.) There's even a Zen garden (designed by the landscape firm HM White Site Architects). Yet whatever the project's merits, the developer didn't advertise them directly, at least not at first. An early marketing push for the units relied entirely on the characters themselves, neglecting things like interior details in favor of a sell that emphasized livin' that Founding Father life.
First as tragedy, then as farce, as the saying goes: Way back in 2008, The Onion ran a feature on the threat of "aristocratization" facing the nation's gentrifying neighborhoods. A sardonic housing report detailed how "the enormous treasure-based wealth of the aristocracy makes it impossible for those living on modest trust funds to hold onto their co-ops and converted factory loft spaces."
Now those aristocrats are a feature, not a flaw. Danielle Tcholakian, who covers west Manhattan for DNAinfo, spoke to 15 Renwick developer Dan Oelsner, who told her that Hudson Square is a "boutique neighborhood" that's "full of rich hipsters."
Let's take stock of what this rich hipster's boutique life entails:
—Tome with quill and ink, for writing one's paper Tumblr
—Vast cape draped over the chair
—There is definitely an airship out the window
—Not just a carafe of cognac, but an artfully spilled goblet
—That hair tho
—Marble bust on an Isamu Noguchi coffee table
—Are those shields?
All that's missing is a tiered cake and the grubby faces of de Blasio orphans pressing against the window, dreaming of affordable housing and warm mittens.
"Our target market is people who are creative, different," 15 Renwick developer Eldad Blaustein told the Observer when the project first launched. "We always joke that it might be a Wall Street trader, but he’s writing songs, he’s writing poems at night."
This project should be an opportunity to reexamine the acute fever that has settled over the nation in the early part of this decade. Which goes beyond the obsession with artisanal cocktails and pickles and mayo and toast. And beyond those curly mustaches that a certain stripe of men and women are so taken with. (Why do mustaches need a Pinterest page?) It should be an opportunity for everyone to watch a season or two of Deadwood as a reminder that the 19th century was terrible.
But 15 Renwick is not that opportunity. It's too late for that. The only thing left is to burn it all down.
New York: What happened to you?