What's an apartment or condo building design you actually like?

Stonehenge apartments Albany

In a comments about the Playdium site redev last week, Lauren mentioned Stonehenge near Albany's Buckingham Pond as an example of an apartment complex design she liked. (Here's a pic from when the complex was built in the 1940s.)

Whenever the topic of new building projects comes up, people inevitably end up talking about the exterior design. And that's great. The question of how buildings look and relate to the surrounding context is worth paying attention to. Our environment -- including the built environment -- can affect the way a place works, and how we feel while we're there.

Somewhat less encouraging is that reactions to the designs are usually lukewarm to negative.* Recent example: the proposed residential redevelopment of the Playdium site in Albany's Pine Hills neighborhood.

So, in the spirit of "more like this" instead of "no, not that"...

What's an apartment building that you like the look of? Why?

It could be a local building, it could be one somewhere else. (Ideas from else could be a welcome addition.) It could be new, it could be old.

It'll be interesting to hear what you think.

And If we get enough answers we might be able to pull something together about why buildings are designed the way they are today, and what's possible and/or cost effective for new residential buildings.

* Some of the apparent level of dissatisfaction is no doubt due to the fact if people don't like something, they're probably more likely to speak up.

+ What's a recent building that you like? (2014)
+ Six not-boring parking garages (2013)


The Conservatory in Troy!

In line with the comment above, many of the Pfeil's projects are attractive. While not a condo building, the Pfeil building on Broadway in Saratoga is a great example of a high quality, attractive new construction.

I like the building at 55 South Lake in Albany. A modest Art Moderne building in brick and stucco with a few small ornamental touches. A nice detail is the right hand side where the wall breaks into a series of setbacks to give the apartments on that side a view toward Washington Park. An example of design on what may have been a modest budget.

Having attended a recent presentation by developers, its clear they need a certain number of units to make project feasible. I don't think site will support multiple buildings of smaller scale - what it might support is a structure or two designed to look like an old industrial building. The current building is more that and less residential. I can envision the use of old style brick and large windows, providing a more "converted loft aesthetic" which might provide a welcome option to the usual garden apartments we see everywhere else. Lofts provide more open floorplans, which may allow for smaller units, thus meeting minimum number needed - and if done well, it would look like a small scale converted "factory". Rather than trying to mimic residential styles, it would relate more to the current & historic use of the site.

So people like apartment buildings that provide zero on site parking, yet demand that all new projects include it so that "their" street parking remains the same, and then turn around and say it's ugly and doesn't fit in the neighborhood. Typical Albany.

355 State St., in Albany. Designed by the incomparable Marcus Reynolds!

This is a great idea. I was dismayed to see that the rezone Albany project stuck to use-based codes. Identifying what we want stuff to look like creates a basis for form-based zoning.


Anything new with the old Tobin Packing building on Exchange St.?

Tim, there are several form-based code districts in the zoning code, starting on Page 42: http://rezonealbany.com/document/adopted-unified-sustainable-development-ordinance

The architecture of new construction is difficult...I love historic designs but they are more costly to build. Who is going to carve all of those gargoyles and birds? I think Albany's development scene could benefit from a few new architects who put as much thought into the design as the developer does into the "numbers".

Here are a few newly constructed building I really like:

1. http://us.archello.com/en/project/cb19-new-construction-two-apartment-buildings

2. https://www.designboom.com/architecture/xoco-325-west-broadway-soho-condominium-building-ddg-new-york-08-15-2016/

3. https://boston.curbed.com/2017/1/24/14364250/new-jamaica-plain-townhouse-boston-real-estate

I'm quite partial to the aesthetic of Stonehenge Gardens...

I also agree with Tim--not embracing form based codes was a missed opportunity for the city of Albany.

I stand corrected; Albany did embrace form based codes in some areas--kudos to that.

While I agree with Emily about historic designs and the cost to make new construction look old, I think a lot depends on who is developing the site and if they actually use an architecture firm.

A lot of times developers have in-house designers...but everything is done to make the numbers work. And developers can spend a lot of money on designs...but that costs time (and money).

That being said (and I think "Target" says this, too)--good design doesn't have to cost a lot. But the developer has to care about making buildings that are interesting, desirable, as well as cost effective. Perhaps we get the same (vanilla) development because that's what's cost efficient.

The new Ida Yarbrough homes are certainly a departure from the norm around here...


Thanks for all the suggestions so far. (I've added streetview links to suggestions without links.)

@Dave: I haven't heard anything lately about the First Prize Center site. It's worth watching whether there will be movement there now that the Adelphi renovation in Saratoga Springs, backed by the same developer, is finished. (The same goes for the stalled Gallery on Holland project in Albany.)

@Emily: The cast aluminum facade building is really interesting in the way it's making something modern that plays on an old neighborhood design.

@Elizabeth: A question I was thinking about Stonehenge this week: What would the neighborhood reaction be if it didn't exist and it was proposed today?

I'd second the shout outs to the Stonehenge apartments in the Buckingham Lake area of Albany, 355 State St in Albany and the Conservatory in Troy.

They not only avoid the cheap looking, cookie cutter, almost willfully unimaginative and depressingly mediocre, exburban purgatory aesthetic that seems to be so common with new apartment buildings (e.g. the dreary blobs of beige that have been vomited up in the Park South neighborhood in Albany, among all too many others), they actually present a relatively attractive, classic and urbane style that meshes well with their respective neighborhoods and with the aesthetic of the area as a whole (especially 355 State and the Conservatory).

The designs of a couple of the newly constructed apartment complexes linked to by Emily, above, are also interesting, and while they may not all be my personal cup of tea, they're at least more interesting, and an improvement on the actively depressing monuments to mind-numbing monotony that are all too often thrown up these days.

I'd also add the Mayflower Apartments at 8 S. Lake in Albany to that list - nice brick work, a cool archway entrance with small entry courtyard, etc. make for a building that (from the outside, at least) has aesthetic appeal and - at the very least - wouldn't actively depress people who happen to look at it.

Thank you for continuing this discussion. Mixed use neighborhoods help Albany stand out. I know that profit may be king to some developers, but beauty and joy also count. The Playdium site needs a better idea than big box apartments. Style should not be the last thing considered. Look at 2 apartment complexes on Ontario- one is just buildings without landscaping, the other has trees and shrubs and a homier feel than "subsidized housing". People live lives in these buildings; they are not just passing through town.

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