Bjarke Ingels on His Via 57 Chair

Via 57 West is a U.S. Immigration Fund project

Originally posted by The New York Times, May 27, 2016, By Tim McKEOUGH

Not every building inspires its own chair. But Via 57 West, a 709-unit residential rental tower at 625 West 57th Street in Manhattan, is no ordinary building.

So the architect Bjarke Ingels, who designed the structure that seems to defy description — it’s most commonly referred to as either a pyramid or a hyperbolic paraboloid — made a chair to go with it: the Via 57. Created byKiBiSi, the product design company Mr. Ingels runs with two partners, it was manufactured by Fritz Hansen. The chair will be available in September, for $2,756.

Mr. Ingels, 41, is one of the most in-demand architects of his generation. His firm, Bjarke Ingels Group, or BIG, is at work on a new campus for Google in Mountain View, Calif., and the redesign of the South Mall campus at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington.

In New York, BIG’s projects include the so-called BIG U, a series of flood-protection measures disguised as parks around the southern portion of Manhattan; the Spiral, an office tower for Tishman Speyer ringed by outdoor terraces, on West 34th Street; and 2 World Trade Center.

But Via 57 West, where the Durst Organization recently began leasing and move-ins are underway, is the Danish architect’s first completed building in the United States. He recently answered questions about the building and its chair.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

Q. How is Via 57 West different from other apartment buildings?

A. The building is about creating that corner, and the courtyard. Because of the extreme asymmetry, the southwest corner is the height of a handrail and the northeast corner is the height of a high-rise.

The courtyard building is at the architectural scale what Central Park is at the urban scale — an oasis in the middle of the city. It’s communal. I have a feeling that this building will function a little like a social condenser. It might actually be a building where you get to know your neighbors.

Q. Why design a chair to go with it?

A. We thought there would be something fun about doing it for this project.Arne Jacobsen, the Danish architect — some of his nicest work was designed for the Royal Hotel in Copenhagen, including the Swan and theEgg chair. It was Fritz Hansen who did that. We came up with this idea of Scan-American: If Scandinavia is known for this very simple aesthetic, then American, in the cliché way, could be about comfort. Our first design was almost the idea of a beanbag chair with skinny legs.

Q. How did the building inspire it?

A. It’s not like we wanted the chair to look like the building, or vice versa. In the courtyard, it’s really open to one side and really well defined to the other side, which makes it cozy. The chair has a little bit of that. It’s an interesting hybrid that’s neither an armchair nor just a seat — it has a little bit of both.

Q. Will the chairs be used in the building?

A. Yes, there are going to be a handful of them in all of the common areas. Then, hopefully, it gets a life on its own. Just like the Swan: Even though it was designed for the Royal Hotel, it’s not like it needs to only be there.

Q. But is there something about it that works particularly well there?

A. What I think works well is that it groups together quite nicely. As free-standing lobby or living room furniture, it almost forms a mini-sofa. You have quite a variety of seating possibilities.

Q. What’s happening with your other projects in New York?

A. We’re starting up on the second phase of the BIG U. Not only the East Side we’ve been working on, which is scheduled to break ground in 2017, but also the south tip of Manhattan, including Battery Park City.

Then we’re doing the Spiral and 2 World Trade Center; they’re in conversation with potential anchor tenants. We’re doing a rental building in Harlem, on 126th Street, but we haven’t really gone public with it yet.

Q. Don’t you have a project for HFZ Capital Group as well?

A. That’s also not really public, but there have been a handful of leaks for both projects. With HFZ, we’re working on this condo-hotel project on the High Line.

Q. You put green space in a lot of your buildings, both residential and commercial. Why?

A. When we came here six years ago, this idea of outdoor space — and even balconies in a rental building — wasn’t really seen as contributing a lot of value. But now, for both residential and office, outdoor space has become increasingly in demand. With the Spiral, every floor has a little dedicated outdoor space. At 2 World Trade Center, it’s like six plazas or parks.

Q. You sound very busy. When did you find time to design a chair?

A. The funny thing is that you would expect designing a chair is easy compared to designing a house. But it pretty much took the same amount of time to design, permit and build Via as it took to design, develop and manufacture the Via chair. It’s kind of shocking.

Q. So why do it?

A. For fun. I think all of it can be meaningful.