Three years ago, the Lucida was little more than a notion. Six months ago it was a mere skeleton, and now, fully fleshed out, it surveys the southeast corner of Lexington Avenue as one of the more notable residential structures to rise in Manhattan in some time.
The Lucida is not like most of the residential buildings that have arisen in Manhattan in recent years. A massive undertaking that occupies fully half of the block that stretches between Lexington and Third avenues and between 86th and 85th streets, it is a 20-story, nearly cubic mass, rather than a tower. And unlike Robert Stern's equally new Brompton, one block east, it avoids the use of an archaic, classicizing vocabulary. Instead, the Lucida is resolutely modern, all sharp angles and sheer glass cladding. It comes to us from the firm of Cook + Fox, whose principle Richard Cook (formerly of Richard Cook and Associates) has enhanced Manhattan such other notable projects as 360 Madison Avenue (at 45th Street), the Caroline, (at Seventh Avenue and 23rd Street), and one of the largest new office buildings in the world, One Bryant Park, also known as the Bank of America building.
In terms of its design, the Lucida is among this firm's better projects to date. It has avoided all trace of vernacular or contextual references, such as one sees in the Caroline and, in vestigial form, in 360 Madison Avenue. The defining formal element of this building is a sheer curtain wall, without infill or spandrels, and yet retaining a certain modular regularity that runs the entire length and breadth of the building. In the Lucida's current state of development, this glass cladding imparts a grayish tint to the project as a whole. And while the building has none of the coursing lines that adorn the façade of 360 Madison, the all-but-unmediated expanse of glass across a cubic surface creates a similar and impressive effect.
In the latest renderings, there is no trace of the green oasis of plant life that was initially promised and that appeared to be spilling out of the cracks and crevices of the building. Assuming that they will not be included in the finished design, that is probably a good thing. Richard Cook's partner, Robert Fox, is famous for being one of the pioneers of green architecture, and this latest project aspires to be one of the first LEED-certified residential building in Manhattan. But the luxuriant green terraces that were initially planned felt like a distraction from the pristine glass curtain walls, and it is hard to imagine that their ecological value was anything more than symbolic, an incongruous splash of green within a neo-Modernist framework.
Structurally, the upper half of the building, which is modestly set back from the base, is relieved by a series of recessions that recall those of the nearby Brompton. In that project, however, the feeling is different, creating an impression somewhere between the Gothic and Queen Anne styles.
The most interesting element in the upper part of the Lucida, however — and this is where the deconstructivist element kicks in — is the way it straddles its base at a slight angle. The effect is such as to suggest one building set atop another, at a slight angle. In many another deconstructivist buildings, such irregularity results in a feeling of displeasing irresolution and incompleteness. At the Lucida, by contrast, it creates a dramatic and beguiling effect. Try as one might, it is all but impossible to determine the orientation of the base relative to the top. When you look at the base, the top part of the building seems eccentric; when you look at the top, it is the base that suddenly seems off-kilter.
With the Lucida, for once, we see the deconstructivist style used effectively in New York. By invoking it, this new building creates diversity and occupies a middle ground between the tedium that often plagues modernist regimentation and the uncorseted chaos that often plagues deconstructivism. The Lucida is quite different in almost every respect from the Brompton on Third Avenue. But these two new developments, by major New York architects, are already bringing about a material improvement on East 86th Street.