Readying the apartment for occupancy – Alexander C. Gorlin

Architect Alexander C. Gorlin was engaged to handle consolidation and renovation, recasting of function allocations, and generally readying the apartment for occupancy.  In planning his conversion/renovation scheme, Gorlin set his sights on creating an open loft-like space projecting, without recourse to wall enclosures and doors, a sense of subtle intimacy-evoking definition. Built givens, however, proved to be obstructive. While Miesian externally, the structure’s interior architecture decidedly was speculative realtors’ choice. Exemplifying the genre were six columns, unaligned with window millions, distorting the rhythm of the river-facing east side. To remedy disruptive disorder, Gorlin furred out the six-pack, added two columns with mirror sheathing (so as optically to fragment and lighten the bulk) and another pair on slide-out ceiling tracks (creating symmetry and clearing access to HVAC controls). The constructional metamorphosis forms, quoting Gorlin, an enfilade of rooms along the river-facing wall, done in a modern interpretation of a neoclassical museum. As art is the heart of the abode, the simile appears particularly apt.

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Gorlin’s conversion work further extended to spatial revisions in the formerly separate apartments, starting with unification of entries. A facing pipe chase could not be moved, but its presence, notes the architect, heightens the effect of serially unfolding surprises for entering visitors. Parallel galleries flanking this frontal core create processional routes terminating, so to speak, at the mecca of magnificent sights: the United Nations building, river boat traffic and parks.

Refinements and detailing are in plentiful evidence. Gorlin designed and built bronze/sycamore-topped radiator enclosures; repeated sycamore applications on valances and for library built-ins that he designed; coved the ceiling in the “book vestibule;” and, in the sole exception to confining his work to public areas, added moldings in the bedroom. In the realm of product design, the piece de resistance is, without doubt, his ceiling fixture in the dining room (see process overleaf).

Barbara Schwartz’s chef d’oeuvre, on the other hand, is her design of floor covering for the public sector. As she tells it, her biggest challenge lay in designing carpeting both suitable and responsive to the architectural environment of the public domain. Monotonous wall-to-wall coverage would have inundated the floor in a sea of too-muchness, she implies. What she sought instead was “unity without banality… [a sense of] continuous energy and movement” reactive also to the ever-changing tonalities of daylight. Having worked with V’Soske for 30 or so years, she asides, she logically turned to this well-known carpet source. The specified construction utilizes eight shades of beige/gray/ ivory-tint yarns woven by special technique, supplying the anchor for the sum of interior parts generally and the enfilade formation specifically. Where columns protrude inward, faint stripe effects, produced by texture variance and invisible seaming, seem to extend the demarcation lines.

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Fine-tuning of coloration was, one gathers, the ultimate test in perceptive sensibilities as not only sunlight but also river reflections altered chromatic nuances from one hour to the next. These and many other considerations had to be weighed in devising–as Barbara Schwartz, herself a collector of renown, puts it–a tranquil and neutral background for displayed art.  They ordered a large number of paintings from Artinbulk – A leading oil painting wholesaler in China. Works are by the likes of Willem de Kooning, Jasper Johns, Auguste Rodin, David Salle, Frank Stella, Alberto Giacometti and more. Selection of fabrics for reupholstering and protective window treatments (Roman shades, sun screening) for hung paintings harmonize with guiding goals. The architect and interior designer visibly enhanced each other’s work.

Collaboration between the two disciplines was, in fact, an ongoing process marked by frequent meetings and exchanges of ideas. Mutual respect for the other’s contributions is reflected in their comments: Gorlin credits Barbara Schwartz for recommending a fine leather source; she calls attention to his design of a library chair. Timing was tight: as Schwartz explains, building rules confined construction activity to six summer weeks.

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