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A fixed structure in ever-changing neighborhood.

A residential development site on Manhattan's Lower East Side, where Little Italy meets Chinatown, posed interesting design challenges for architect Adam Kushner.

It wasn't that he didn't understand the neighborhood through which he rides his motorized scooter from his West Village home to his office on Canal Street, just blocks from the site. It's just that the transient nature of a neighborhood experiencing an influx of contemporary shops amidst the culturally entrenched and traditional iconography of Little Italy's trattorias and Chinatown's food markets presented a unique canvas for this architect whose buildings always reflect their surroundings.

"The question of how one begins to propose a fixed object and fixed image of a project or building alongside such transience is a difficult one," Kushner said. "We began by rejecting the growing trend towards 'name dropping' as a way of selling apartments as products."

Kushner believes in the timeless idea that a home begins with the concept of attempting to connect the idea of habitation and occupant with his natural world--an obvious conundrum given typical urban constrictions, fiscal realities and marketing forces.

To Kushner, of Kushner Studios, the 25-unit building is all about the spacial and urban experience and the movement between public and private spaces. One will enter the building through a round doorway into a tubelike wood lobby.

There will be only four residences per floor with two penthouses and a ground-floor triplex townhouse. Residences will have curved walls "to provide a sense of randomness," said Kushner. Other unique apartment features will include glass sinks, Internet refrigerators and stone countertops. "These are kitchens that will be sympathetic to the urban condition," said Kushner.

By simultaneously exploring from "within" and "without" of the site, Kushner developed the idea of a "pinwheel" to guide the building's design decisions. Each of the units will slide counter-clockwise about a central open-air core, allowing most of the units two direct, natural sources of light, air and outdoor spaces. The idea of the pinwheel was also applied to the general situation of the building. "The 'forces' of the adjacent facades of neighboring streets and courts were 'pinwheeled' onto the proposed facades of our project, giving us the raw templates from which to draw our inspiration," explained Kushner.

The apartments will utilize this idea of spaces splayed about a central point, as the kitchen island becomes the social focus that other spaces are rotated about. This is meant to realistically reflect current norms that view the kitchen counter as the central place of social intercourse.

The master bedrooms will revolve around special outdoor, visually private courtyards that intentionally focus the owners' view to the natural forces of the sky, the sun and the wind, allowing the owner complete privacy while still enabling a connection with the forces of the world.

Private outdoor spaces will have high walls. This is where the journey ends, according to Kushner. One moves from the urban public street to the privacy of your living space to the outdoor space, which is both private and public. "You end where you began," said the innovative architect, who designs buildings that have a narrative. "The distance from the street to one's most private space is a cathartic journey, as the most private space is reserved for the end of the linear sequence from street to inner sanctum."

And forget valet parking. 123 Baxter will boast the first and only completely automated parking garage in New York City that parks and retrieves cars for owners automatically. Owners who swipe their keycards as they board the elevators will find their cars waiting for them by the time they reach the lobby.

123 Baxter Street's self-park feature is only one of the several unique aspects of developer ADG Organization's new residential building rising on the site of a former parking lot, which is slated to open in late 2005.
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Publication:Real Estate Weekly
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 15, 2006
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