Ride a Giant Elevator with Norman Foster


The designing mind behind the British Museum expansion, the Reichstag dome, and the Hearst Building in midtown Manhattan will be slumming it this spring. Sir Norman Foster‘s latest New York project (in addition to three currently unbuilt edifices) is an eight-story contemporary art gallery on the Bowery, former home of myriad flophouses and now neighbor to the envelope-pushing New Museum. Sperone Westwater is relocating from the West Village, into the 20,000 square foot space that Foster has designed around a massive central elevator, which will act as a secondary, mobile gallery space.

Due to the limitations of the lot’s 25′ x 100′ footprint at 257 Bowery, the gallery has a vertically aligned, stacking three floors of gallery space, two floors of private exhibition space, two administration floors, and one library floor into its 20,000 square feet. The pièce de résistance of the plan is the big red elevator, visible from the street through a façade of milled glass, which at 12′ x 20′ can hold up to 240 people. That leaves a lot of room for Antisocial Elevator Syndrome. The coolest part? Foster’s “moving hall” will be outfitted in the same white cube garb (concrete floors, spiffy white walls) as the rest of the space, so the elevator blends into the main galleries when parked on exhibition floors.

In the Times, Sir Foster addressed the challenges of designing a major architectural project on such a circumscribed footprint, explaining, “It’s a case of the constraints finally becoming the inspiration. To be an architect, you have to be an optimist,” he said. “You have to be a realist, but you have to be an optimist.”