Something There is That Loves a Glass Curtain Wall: Poets House Unveils LEED Gold Hopeful HQ in Battery Park City

The glass-walled duplex is notable both for being one of the first arts organizations to open downtown since September 11 and for its striking architectural adventurousness and sustainable design elements.

Poets House

Yeah, the title is a misquote — the line, from Robert Frost’s “Mending Wall,” is actually “something there is that doesn’t love a wall.” But that doesn’t really fit when it’s applied to the opening of the much anticipated, LEED Gold-hopeful home of the literary nonprofit Poets House in Battery Park City. The glass-walled duplex is notable both for being (as Robin Pogrebin of the New York Times notes) one of the first arts organizations to open downtown since September 11 and for its striking architectural adventurousness and sustainable design elements. There is nothing not to love about what’s in these walls, in short. So maybe the title was a misleading reference, then. My point, really, was to remind you that I know some poetry. So mission accomplished there, obviously. But, right, Poets House. Here are some things to know about it:

First of all, it’s beautiful — Polshek Partnership (which also did the Brooklyn Museum renovation and entry atrium, among other NYC projects) did the exterior work, Louise Braverman the interior, and both make striking and extensive use of glass throughout the duplex’s 11,000 square feet. The design is at least in part a play on a line from Poets House founder (and former United States Poet Laureate) Stanley Kunitz. Kunitz’s quote — “I dream of an art so transparent that you can look through it and see the world” — certainly seems to get its due in this design, but the openness of the design offers some added real world benefits — tons of sunlight, dazzling views of the Hudson River and Statue of Liberty, that sort of thing. There’s a lot to like inside of Poets House — the 50,000-volume library, the Alexander Calder mobiles and Philip Guston paintings, the 200 or so literary events it hosts per year — but the new space is a treat to behold from without, before any of that even comes into consideration.

The new Poets House’s aesthetic accomplishment is matched by its efficiency. Per the AP report on the opening, Poets House’s beechwood floor is both sustainable and local, the linoleum and carpet tiles are recycled; the lighting runs on sensors; the entire building is insulated with shredded denim. The building’s efficient operations are complemented by a very cost-effective rent — that would be $1 per year, until 2069, thanks to the Battery Park City Authority. Poets House expects to save some $60 million in rent over that period, but Battery Park City probably stands to profit more. We’ve probably all come to grips with the fact that, whatever finally happens to the still-fallow area around Ground Zero, it will not be the cultural haven once proposed for the area. But that doesn’t mean it’s not very nice indeed to see Poets House take up residence at this unexpected address, and in such an unexpectedly beautiful structure.

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