Half a block from the Flatiron Building, hard by Madison Square Park, and within spitting distance of the Met Life Building, 23 East 22nd Street occupies an architecturally sensitive node. Koolhaas has looked around with a panoramic eye and saluted much of what he saw. Partly for structural reasons, he opted for a solid skin with punched windows, giving the tower a feeling of old-fashioned thickness. The double-height windows on the penthouse floors, for instance, echo the arcade in Met Life’s crown. And the façade of concrete panels embedded in polished steel frames lends a little Chryslerite twinkle to the gabardine-gray exterior. Only the building’s upper and lower ends are unsatisfying. The top cuts off without ceremony or embellishment, like a joke without a punch line; the bottom meets the street with the same old glass wall. This is where Koolhaas might have indulged in another wild stroke or two.
These two buildings won’t open Manhattan up to a generation of rococo skyscrapers. This isn’t Dubai. But they are hardy, quirky, and local enough to help future architects negotiate the relationship between their fancy and the strictures of New York. We’ll take our delirium a little bit at a time.