Completion of Kapoor’s Sculpture is Greatly Exaggerated
By Brian J Pape, AIA
Recent news reports in YIMBY, Dezeen and the New York Review of Architecture have announced that the stainless-steel mirrored ‘bean’ sculpture by the British-Indian artist Anish Kapoor, located at the base of 56 Leonard Street, has finally been completed. I visited the sculpture and found the completion to be greatly exaggerated.
Anish Kapoor (b. 1954) is known for elegant sculptures of spare geometries and organic forms, which he fabricates with feats of engineering. His most famous pieces have been public commissions, including Cloud Gate (2006), a reflective stainless-steel sculpture in Chicago’s lakefront Millennium Park. It is colloquially known as “The Bean” according to Artsy.net. I have toured that installation, you can walk under its arch and around all sides, and it is flawless and fascinating.
In Tribeca, Kapoor’s 19-foot-tall, 48-foot-long, 40-ton amorphous artwork sits outside the main lobby and ground floor retail space of the reinforced concrete “Jenga Block” Tower. Known for its projecting blocks of balconies and cantilevered rooms, it is located at the southwest Church Street corner. Since it is the tallest building for several blocks, it is visible from many vantage points in Greenwich Village.
The 831-foot-tall, 57-story residential skyscraper, designed by Herzog & de Meuron and Hill West Architects for Alexico Group and Hines, opened in 2017. The foundations were poured as the 2008 financial crisis hit, just as the sculpture was originally commissioned, thus taking 15 years to come to fruition. (I remember witnessing the foundation preparations for the sculpture. They are fully reinforced subterranean walls down to the basement.)
Delayed by the economic slowdown, construction finally began again in 2013 and the sculpture continued in 2019. Construction stopped in 2020 due to Covid-pandemic restrictions stopping Kapoor’s UK-based construction team from entering the country, leaving the structure half complete, according to Dezeen.
The Alexico Group stated the sculpture is meant to be “fully integrated into the structure of the iconic tower,” making it an “unprecedented collaboration between the sculpture and architecture.”
The fabricator for Kapoor’s permanent installation was Performance Structures, who reported a rupture of the outer stainless-steel shell from solar radiation last year, according to YIMBY. When I visited recently, there were markings on the surfaces that clearly needed more work to match the gleaming mirror finish. Although the public can now walk around and under the tight spaces next to the glass walls, the entire corner is covered in heavy-duty scaffolding that shades and obscures the projecting mirror surfaces.
One almost feels sorry for the developer’s and artist’s delays and construction woes, if it weren’t for the fact that the development almost sold out long before completion, always a good sign for a capital investment. In September 2014, sales were nearly complete, with only two penthouses—priced at $34.5 and $17.75 million—remaining on the market, according to YIMBY. New York Review of Architecture reported the high-rise’s occupants include Kapoor, who supposedly bought a $13.5 million unit in 2016.
In a Dezeen article, Kapoor is quoted saying, “The city can feel frenetic, fast and hard, imposing architecture, concrete, noise. My work, at 56 Leonard Street, proposes a form that though made of stainless steel is also soft and ephemeral. Mirrors cause us to pause, to be absorbed and pulled in a way that disrupts time, slows it down perhaps; it’s a material that creates a new kind of immaterial space.”
The sculpture has not yet been given an official name, and a concierge at the building said that a dedication and naming ceremony will take place in the coming months. I wish them good luck.