Of all their projects, the one that is most completely theirs—an idealized back lot New York to live in—is 211 Elizabeth Street, in Nolita. It was conceived during the height of the boom, when “there were a lot of glass towers going up,” Standefer says dismissively.
“They’re all caulk, those glass buildings,” says Alesch.
“A house of caulk. And we said, ‘We want to do a building that’s all masonry, that’s got big black wood windows.’ ”
The developers were like, “ ‘That’s boring,’ ” says Alesch. But the couple persevered, arguing for the city as it’s always been—only more rigorously so.
“This is what we do all day: design and convince,” says Standefer. “And it ends well. The world changed; there was this huge crash and burn and then all of a sudden Elizabeth Street was like this beacon of quality amidst the condo boom … the developers actually got fan mail. ‘Thank you for not building a piece of crap.’ ”
“There are some architects and some sort of unthoughtful people that were like, ‘Well, where did you copy that from?’ Really juvenile statements,” says Alesch. “It’s like, ‘No, it wasn’t cut-and-pasted any more than any building in New York City.’ It’s the highly trained architects who have the least ability to see the difference between buildings in New York and tend to generalize that they all look the same.”
“We were happy to see it almost disappear,” says Standefer. “We had a fantastic meeting the other day, a big corporate meeting, and the people were like, ‘Wasn’t that always there?’ Which we consider a great compliment.”