Architect Selldorf Makes Magic With Concrete Gallery

Annabelle Selldorf is in her cheerful prime. Old projects continue to exert charm: that impeccable renovation of New York’s Neue Galerie, for example; or the jaw-dropping Chelsea condo cum car elevator of 200 Eleventh Avenue.

New projects stun in their variety: The transformation of Venice’s Arsenale for the Biennale, a majestic Manhattan gallery for David Zwirner featuring surely the most seductively textured concrete walls, and a recycling station that opens soon in Brooklyn.

In comfortable-looking Prada slippers, Selldorf walked me through the Zwirner gallery’s luminous spaces.

Hoelterhoff: Concrete?

Selldorf: David and I are both from Cologne and grew up with a lot of concrete and thinking, concrete is really ugly!

Hoelterhoff: Yes! So how do you make it beautiful?

Selldorf: Man, it’s a lot of work. It really is. But for us architects, concrete is also a magical material, because it gives you infinite freedom to do all sorts of shapes.

Hoelterhoff: What was here before?

Big Names

Selldorf: A garage that had all sorts of limitations we could never have overcome.

David wanted to display in the best way possible the secondary-market artists that he deals with, especially the estates -- whether that’s Flavin, Judd, now Ad Reinhardt, Matta-Clark -- the great minimalist artists who thrive on daylight, and in big spaces.

Hoelterhoff: The main gallery is thrilling with its skylights. So is the view up the staircase. Was the process difficult?

Selldorf: I was a tiny bit naive about the process, because I thought, it’s like any other material, you sort of look up what you have to do!

But it’s a different kind of industry here than it is in Europe and that has to do with a lot of reasons, including unions.

There’s this one guy, whose business is to work with architects making what’s called architectural concrete.

Hoelterhoff: Meaning?

Open Windows

Selldorf: The mix is a bit different.

There are many things to consider: what the forms are like, how long you cure it, how much you pour in one pour and what the sequencing of it is, because you can only pour one floor at a time. Being that weather conditions can be different, how do you ensure that the first floor and the second floor look the same. That’s actually the hardest part.

Hoelterhoff: The facade features teak. Will it turn gray?

Selldorf: No. It has a sealer on it. If it goes gray a little bit, I don’t think we’ll mind, but we want it to have the quality where we can identify it as wood.

Hoelterhoff: Wow, the windows open. Here’s a breeze.

Selldorf: It’s heaven. We’re European. But while there was all this very careful thinking about windows, doors, how a space is used, how daylight is applied -- it’s also a sustainable building. It qualifies on the LEED gold scale and that’s something we’re proud of.

Hoelterhoff: You and Zwirner have known each other a long time.

Selldorf: I designed David’s first gallery in SoHo when we were both decidedly junior and practically applying the floor stain ourselves. It’s a tremendous privilege to have a client who I can work with throughout my career. We started at the same time and then he became incredibly big.

Hoelterhoff: So did you! Many of us are very excited by the Sunset Park Materials Recycling Facility in Brooklyn. The most beautiful destination for plastic, glass and metal.

Selldorf: Ha. Let’s visit in September.

(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 Susan Antilla on books, Greg Evans on TV.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.