A colourful stack of blocks punches through the local skyline, announcing something different. Across the upper levels, bright splashes of blue, green, yellow, red and orange draw the eye, while a more muted composition of plum, teal and brownish-grey tones melds with the Manhattan streetscape. Here, on the corner of 181 Street and Amsterdam Avenue in New York City’s Washington Heights neighbourhood, Dutch architects MVRDV have completed their first North American project, the Radio Hotel and Tower.
Comprising a 221-room hotel, 16,000-square metres of office space, an event venue and a variety of street-level retail, the $300-million USD development is a marquee neighbourhood presence. Designed in partnership with locally-based architects of record Stonehill Taylor and featuring — similarly colour-blocked — interiors by Workshop APD, the project is an instantly recognizable local landmark.
While the building’s height and bold colours assertively draw the eye, the design — and program — is also rooted in local context. Conceived as a “vertical village,” the playful building is broken up into a series of smaller volumes that individually reflect the rhythm and scale of surrounding buildings. Meanwhile, the design’s bright colours are a nod to the eclectic storefronts that shape the neighbourhood.
“Washington Heights has a unique and exciting character, very different from the other Manhattan neighbourhoods further south”, says MVRDV founding partner Winy Maas. “The design of Radio Hotel and Tower is inspired by that character – we took the smaller blocks that are typical in the neighbourhood and stacked them into a vertical village. Add to that the bright colours that you see all around the area, and the project is like a beacon celebrating this part of the city.”
While the colourful stacked massing creates a visual identity, the staggered form also creates space for multiple rooftop terraces — one for each “block.” At ground level, the Radio Hotel also features a 750-square metre inner courtyard and garden, which provides a tranquil space for guests, as well as a venue for live music.
Helping to animate the streetscape, retail along Amsterdam Avenue includes the first United States outpost of the popular Santo Domingo-based restaurant Jalao.
Led by developers Youngwoo & Associates, the Radio Hotel and Tower creates a new hub for visitors to Washington Heights, including the conference-goers that attend regular events hosted by local institutions like New York Presbyterian Hospital and the Yeshiva University. According to Youngwoo & Associates partner Margarette Lee, the benefits will be locally felt too. “Seventy percent of the employees at the hotel and restaurant are from the neighbourhood; our presence here will result in a significant economic input to the community,” says Lee.
The colourful Radio Hotel and Tower complex is the Dutch design firm’s first project in the United States.