Drive up to your Manhattan apartment. How cool is that.
Architect Annabelle Selldorf introduced the sky-garage concept to Manhattan’s Chelsea district, where art and lots of money mingle so freely.
Born in Germany, Selldorf studied in New York and never left, establishing herself as one of the premier architects for galleries, libraries and airily spartan apartments.
She’s also known for converting a decrepit 1913 mansion into the Neue Galerie, the splendid Austrian and German arts showcase on Fifth Avenue that opened in 2001.
Now the elegant Selldorf portfolio has expanded to include a recycling station in Brooklyn.
We spoke over lunch at Bloomberg’s world headquarters in New York.
Hoelterhoff: Let’s talk about 200 Eleventh Avenue. Who came up with this unusual idea of how to help solve the parking crisis in New York by taking your car up to your apartment in a separate elevator?
Selldorf: In this case, parking couldn’t easily be submerged because the footprint is too small for the turning radius.
And people liked it very much because there is additional space that can be used for other things if they don’t have a car.
Where’s the Clutter?
Hoelterhoff: The lawn mower.
Selldorf: There were people who said that the car was unduly celebrated as a result of it. I thought that that was sort of nonsensical. It’s 12 cars. And it’s in an area with no public transportation or taxis.
Hoelterhoff: I’d worry about stepping on the gas accidentally and ending up in my living room.
Selldorf: A great many safety precautions had to be taken. The developer was very keen on not only having the latest technology but also the highest rating for concrete walls and what have you.
Hoelterhoff: Whenever I see photos of sleek apartments -- like your own -- I wonder about clutter. There is never any clutter. I wonder what happens when the photographer leaves.
Selldorf: I think when you look at architectural photography it doesn’t help to have piles of old clothes lying on the floor. Architectural photography sets up an artifice.
Having said that, however, in the spaces that I design, I do think about there being a place for things. Our life is full of colorful objects and things that, whether they are your glasses, your handbag, your flowers, your books, they all make up the puzzle of the whole.
Hoelterhoff: You seem an unlikely choice to design a recycling facility in Brooklyn.
Selldorf: I hope we’ll get to do many more because it’s one of those things you do that sort of make a difference. A large part of the site is dedicated to greenery and there’s talk about putting some goats in the field.
Hoelterhoff: I could lend you my pet goat, Tuffy, who escaped from a slaughterhouse right around there.
Selldorf: Thank you. It’s a most beautiful site. You can look toward New Jersey, see the Statue of Liberty, see Lower Manhattan and the upper Gowanus Canal.
The roof has 50,000 square feet of solar panels, which is probably the largest installation of solar panels in the city. Together with a wind turbine, they’ll be able to generate about 25 percent of the energy that the facility consumes.
Hoelterhoff: You grew up in Cologne, which was bombed to bits in World War II. Did all the disappeared buildings inspire you to want to build?
Selldorf: I thought that Cologne was really not a visually very exciting place because it had been rebuilt so haphazardly, but I don’t think that I was able to have a fully formulated idea about it.
Hoelterhoff: There weren’t many women architects when you started.
Selldorf: To this day it’s a little bit difficult for women to establish a practice in what is to some extent still considered a man’s world, though I think it’s changing rapidly. Initially, only women worked for me, but now it’s more balanced.
Hoelterhoff: What’s coming up?
Selldorf: A new gallery for David Zwirner on West 20th Street, which will be the first LEED-certified commercial gallery. We’re also renovating an 18th-century townhouse in the Mayfair section of London as Zwirner’s first London Gallery.
And in Venice, a museum for glass that will open end of August to coincide with the architecture biennale.
Hoelterhoff: Looking at your website, that cottage on the Nova Scotia coast is starkly appealing if somewhat lonely-looking.
A Room of My Own
Selldorf: It’s basically three little cabins. There’s a small addition that I added because I wanted to have a place to sleep if I came to visit these people.
The whole sort of situation of being secluded and off the grid is really fantastic. No electricity -- it couldn’t be brought in. And a compostable toilet. Plumbing is overrated anyway.
For more on Selldorf, go to www.selldorf.com.
(Manuela Hoelterhoff is executive editor of Muse, Bloomberg’s arts and culture section. Any opinions are her own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)
Muse highlights include Jeremy Gerard on Broadway and Greg Evans on film.