Slow Living in Manhattan. Snail Apartments from Archimatika

Ирина Исаченко / Архитектура /

In its article Ukraine for Export, PRAGMATIKA.MEDIA spoke about expansion of the Ukrainian architectural company Archimatika to the American market. In his interview, the company’s co-founder and director Oleksandr Popov announced ambitious goals of creating a brand new housing typology for New Yorkers, based on the original concept of PRO apartments. Today, we have the opportunity to tell more details of this project and even show design of the future complex, Snail Apartments to be built in Manhattan.

PRAGMATIKA.MEDIA: The first thing that catches an eye when looking at visualizations of your New York project is huge brass snails climbing upwards from the entrance unit. And the complex’s working name uses this image…

 Aleksandr Popov, Archimatika co-founder and CEO: Why snail and why Snail Apartments? It’s quite possible that later on, we and our investors and developers will change the image. But for the time being, it is a pilot concept based on a certain inner myth developed specifically for this complex. Snail Apartments: apartments for people living in the most bustling place in the world. In New York, and especially in Manhattan, everybody is in a hurry, rushing somewhere all the time.

Aleksandr Popov, Archimatika co-founder and CEO

And in contrast to that, here comes a new value: a chance to be tranquil and unhurried. A snail is never in a rush, yet it gets all its things done. Its home is always with it. The new era and creative thinking open totally new life scenarios for a business, forming a new lifestyle. A successful man of the 21st century does not necessarily have to hurry. What’s important for a person making money today is, first of all, the accuracy of decisions and the precision of every step, and for that, one needs to have a chance to get focused and even to meditate. Being visitors to Manhattan, we saw for ourselves the demand for new quality of space, new quality of architecture that would set a different pace of life. So, we approached the implementation of this idea delicately on the one hand, and on the other hand, we played on the contrast with the mainstream, with the generally accepted lifestyle inherited from the past era.

Being the guests of Manhattan, we have felt a request for a new quality of space, a new quality of architecture, which would set a different pace of life

Of course, we checked the history of the image and the role of snail in the world of branding. And one of the close conceptual matches was Slow Food. Slow Food is a global movement that promotes quality nutrition, a sort of alternative to fast food that originated in Italy back in 1986. It quickly spread around the world, and it has an American branch as well. I came across Slow Food at Expo 2015 in Milan. After a busy day at the exhibition, it was great to take a pause, drink a glass of wine and enjoy organic specialties at their pavilion without a hurry.

Kristina Maliyova, an architect at Archimatika: That’s what we tried to embody in architecture. When describing the lifestyle of New Yorkers, our American partner Myk Veret emphasized that it is very important for them to have an isolated zone of comfort and privacy in bedrooms and living rooms, where they could seclude themselves in a chair with a book, a glass of wine or whisky.

Kristina Maliyova, an architect at Archimatika

Let me tell you a bit about how the architectural image of Snail Apartments was shaping up: the very location, the environment dictated its requirements. Our property is located in a typical Manhattan street that becomes quite busy and noisy in daytime. Therefore, the lower part of the façade (the first four floors) has a dual function. Thanks to thick partitions, it looks like a visual shield, appealing to the archetype of “wall architecture” that has the main role of creating a safe shelter. At the same time, quite massive walls protect the interior against the street noise. The upper part of the building is more airy, with a large glazed area. It represents a reference to New York’s contemporary architecture and the opportunity to reveal a view of picturesque cityscape behind the window. The building’s visual image attains individuality thanks, first of all, to the original glazing: windows with bent, curved glass.

Snail Apartments by Archimatika. Image source: archimatika, 2019

Radial windows reveal a panoramic sight, increasing the angle of view. Bay windows of this type allow you to see much more. On top of that, they bring a visual “smartness” to the interior and add functionality. Americans prefer to have in the bedroom a place for reading by the window.

Bay windows create that cozy space. Moreover, we came up with a recognizable beautiful façade that visually connects New York’s historical authentic red-brick architecture with the new, glass and metal one.

Location of the project: Chelsea, Manhattan, New York, USA. Image source: archimatika, 2019

The proportions and height of the building are projected according to strict urban planning standards of New York. Image source: archimatika, 2019

A. P.: We did not try to mimic a traditional red-brick New York. A lot of new-builds have already been erected in this neighborhood, replicating lofts. The authentic lofts were factories, where workers could get from subway straight to their work places. These factory buildings, built in the late 19th century from brick for safety reasons (in order not to burn) and having windows in a fine mesh, have become a sort of an archetype. In the last century, these lofts were occupied by artists, and later on, after renovation, this huge space became a quality and expensive residential property. And when historical lofts ran out, developers began to erect new buildings imitating industrial esthetics. But a new-build is soulless, uninteresting and has nothing particularly attractive in it. We could surely make up an innovative interpretation of a brick façade, but why doing it when the brick is already featured in numerous architectural solutions? Therefore, we selected a consonant interpretation in 21st century materials, in technologies and tectonics typical for the present.

P.M.: So, what kind of materials you were using?

O. P.: The building’s load-bearing structure is a steel frame. American architects suggested that in our case, it is better to build the frame from metal, not concrete. For the façade design, we use three materials: glass, mosaic concrete and metal with brushed brass surface. Mosaic concrete is a polymer concrete with natural stone inclusions – in our case, marble of two colors. The concrete itself has a pleasant chocolate shade. This mass is used to make panels and blocks with rounded sides and polished surface. In fact, these are not innovative in the literal sense but rethought technologies.

Snail Apartments by Archimatika. Image source: archimatika, 2019

P.M.: Why did you choose brass for the entrance area and casements? Is it a sort of a reference to Art Deco so favored by Americans?

A. P.: Well, brass became the simultaneous answer to several of our intentions: extending the bridge to Art Deco, adding a sunny palette to architecture, and finding a metal that could “befriend” chocolate concrete. We needed an “emotional” metal. Making it neutral wasn’t enough.

P.M.: Could you please tell us more about layout solutions for this project?

A. P.: Our layout solutions for Snail Apartments are based on the PRO-housing concept, which envisages that a dwelling is not limited by the apartment walls. In principle, all interior spaces for common use represent a continuation of living space. A person opens the entrance door and immediately finds themselves at home. We decided to depart from the Manhattan tradition of huge lobbies. Above the entrance, you’ll be greeted by a monumental 26-feet brass awning with human-size snails, which then rolls into the building and descends to a cameral 10-feet entrance to the lobby. It is a purely American tradition: there might be a modest apartment somewhere high upstairs, to which you can’t always find the way, but after entering the building, you will immediately find yourself inside a huge space where there is nothing and nobody except an imposing concierge. But on the other hand, a lobby like that is a demonstration of the apartment owner’s significance.

Building incision. Image source: archimatika, 2019
Building incision. Image source: archimatika, 2019

The functionality of a large lobby is close to zero – it’s a senseless yet flashy space for the status. That’s why we designed not a two-story lobby that instills fear and awe in visitors but a cozy, comfortable, European-style one, in which you would want to stay a bit more, have a chat with the concierge, sit in a chair with a laptop or read your mail. It has a place for bicycles, which Manhattan residents are already beginning to use, and a number of useful amenities: a kitchen you could use when throwing a party, a quiet room where you could have some important conversation or meeting; it also has an exit to a green backyard. These areas could be combined: there are sliding noise-insulated partitions between them. The building’s residents and their guests can use these amenities at the same time. Every resident perceives this space as private, coming down there for a cocktail in the evening or a cup of coffee in the morning, but also, they can meet with friends there or hold a business meeting in the meeting room.

The functional blocks. Down up: commercial; coliving; single bed PRO-apartments; one-and-a-half, single-bedroom PRO-apartments penthouse. Image source: archimatika, 2019

We are trying to erase the boundary between the private and the public. In Manhattan, this boundary is traditionally very rigid, and the balance is not in favor of the public. Public space is, in fact, the street, the area from subway to the home; it is functional, but has the minimum of comfort. In Europe, the purpose of public space is to create a quality environment for all, and we are already used to it. But in New York, public space gives you the bare minimum. If you have money, you will enjoy the comfort after coming back to your private space from the street, but if you are not wealthy enough by the local standards, the functional minimum is all you can get. We want to try and shift this balance. The block of the complex’s first two floors is a “home” environment simultaneously open to visitors as well. From the café on the first floor, you can go upstairs to a small barbershop with a bar counter. The barber works at day, and in the evening, the chairs could be turned around to make additional bar seats. Our design includes a cigar room with a powerful exhaust system, where you can smoke a cigar or hookah. Right next to it is a gym.

We went by logistical considerations: living in Snail Apartments, you can come down to the gym in your athletic apparel or in a robe and slippers. The same floor also features a spa area, a lounge, a yoga room, a massage room, a sauna, shower, a small Japanese garden and the exit to a terrace from where you can descend to the garden.

К. М.: There, we also created an open multifunctional space where all rooms could be combined. For example, by drawing back the partitions and making terrace a part of the total space in summertime. The new principles of organizing living space, which lately have been gaining the increasing popularity in Europe, are finding more and more adherents in the United States as well, for eye contact is very important for Americans. The common space, such as café, gym or barbershop, is important for communication. So, we increased their accessibility for the residents, who can come down there in clothes they wear at home. Co-workings are very popular today, so the quiet room on the first floor could be used as a mini co-working space. By the way, we have envisaged acoustic insulation in the layout of our green areas. There is a green hill between the quiet room and the garden party area, which serves as a filter cutting out the noise from the party.

P.M.: To what degree is the creation of acoustic comfort in buildings an obligatory condition for American architects?

A.P.: Acoustic comfort is one of the important points of our concept. Everyone has the right to quietness, and we must provide them with the conditions for rest and a focused work. This is an obligatory condition for premium-class properties. And of course, the lower the class the more variable it gets. Our building is categorized as a business-class property. Still, it features solutions for the premium segment, in particular, acoustic comfort.

We set the style and level of life by esthetics and architecture

P.M.: How do you see the portrait of the complex’s future residents? Who are these people?

A.P.: We set the style and level of life by esthetics and architecture. This housing isn’t cheap, and a lot of money is being spent on creating a stylish and expressive architecture for it.

A noncreative person won’t stay in the company of shining snails but will keep looking for more budget-conscious options. On the contrary, a creative person will rather go for (89 sq.ft)  in a stylish place than for (164 sq.ft) in a tasteless, banal apartment complex.

According to our PRO-housing concept, we are trying to offer the maximum number of layout solutions on the same property, thus creating diverse demography. It’s more interesting this way: new contacts, unexpected acquaintances. It may be boring for students to live in a dormitory or for senior citizens to live in homes for the elderly. It gets interesting, though, in the spaces where different age groups mix with each other.

Radial windows reveal a panoramic sight, increasing the angle of view. Image source: archimatika, 2019

However, there is an obligatory condition: people should not get in each other’s way. It’s not desirable to push together different social groups. Our resident is a person quite open to contacts with the neighbors, well-mannered, of certain creative composure, perhaps working in a creative environment. A 20-year-old specialist can afford a 89-sq.ft studio, a 35-year-old manager can buy a 131-164-sq.ft apartment, and a successful 50-year-old CEO can live in a 558-sq.ft penthouse. But these are all people of the same cultural level who do not get in each other’s way and who feel quite comfortable coming across each other in a bar or gym. That’s why we have such a broad range, from the smallest to the largest apartment. To make it interesting for the residents to meet unordinary people not like them. At Snail Apartments, 30 apartments consist of 16 layout types ranging from 89 to 558 sq.ft. Every level is unique.

The lowest residential floors are for coliving, a sort of a symbiosis of housing and hotel. These are mini studios featuring a kitchen with a 4-ft front where you can heat something up on two burners. Most often, a young man living and working in Manhattan does not cook at home, and therefore, it makes no sense to allocate a greater space to the kitchen area. In order to cook one day something serious for guests, there is a common full-fledged kitchen on the floor. It also has a lounge where you can spend time with friends or talk to a neighbor. One of the important elements is the workspace featured in every apartment, because freelancing is a contemporary trend. And of course, our design includes a large wardrobe front and a king size bed for a comfortable rest. Such a small apartment could be viewed at as a deluxe room in a hotel.

Manhattan, New York

Snail Apartments by Archimatika. Image source: archimatika, 2019

К. М.: Another important point is that every unit retains the same set of amenities. This principle is the same for Ukrainian and American PRO-apartments. We designed the necessary functional areas important for a comfortable living and included them to each of these small apartments, even though they all have a different configuration.

O.P.: The next two floors are taken by one-bedroom apartments. The smallest one is a spacious (131-sq.ft) studio combining the kitchen and bedroom space and having a separate wardrobe and workspace. There, we implemented our favorite ring scheme with two bathroom entrances. The larger-space apartments have a separate bedroom and study room. And the largest one reveals the potential of our bay windows.

A 255-sq.ft one-and-a-half-story apartment at the seventh-eighth floor, which has the exit to a terrace, master bedroom and a study room at the mezzanine. Image source: archimatika, 2019

The following two floors feature five one-and-a-half-story apartments, one of which has the exit to a terrace. The inclusion of a terrace was necessitated by New York’s urban planning regulations. We had to make a drop on the facade surface, so we used it to enlarge the apartment space by adding an observation terrace with a majestic view.

К. М.: It was the first time we used the technique of one-and-a-half-story apartments. Height-wise, these are not two full levels, but the existence of a mezzanine allows creating an originally configured space. The lower level features a full master bedroom, and the mezzanine has a study room offering a panoramic view from the window.

A 190-sq.ft one-and-a-half-story apartment at the eighth-ninth floor, which has a bedroom at the mezzanine, work space, kitchen, living room and dining area. Image source: archimatika, 2019

A 255-sq.ft one-and-a-half-story apartment at the ninth-tenth floor. Image source: archimatika, 2019

P.M.: As far as I can see from the plan, the top floor is a penthouse, right?

К. М.: Right. We paid tribute to American traditions. After analyzing the market of nearby blocks, we realized that for Americans, a penthouse on the roof is a must have. But we designed a functional scenario even for a (558-sq.ft) penthouse. When you leave the elevator, you find yourself in a gorgeous kitchen-come-living room. The living room with bay windows offers a panoramic city view. Bedrooms are located in a quiet area. Each of the three bedrooms is a master bedroom. The main one has a dedicated study and wardrobe, and the other two have the same amenities but a slightly smaller space. Another interesting solution features a dedicated “lying” kitchen and a separate storeroom to keep household wares and for refrigerating and freezing chambers. Americans like the kitchen front area to stay clean and beautiful. A dedicated dining area with a round table is located in the bay window space, from where you can enjoy the New York cityscape.

Snail Apartments by Archimatika. Image source: archimatika, 2019

P.M.: At what stage is the Snail Apartments project today? Has it been approved by the client yet? And by the way, who is he?

O.P.: I cannot tell the client’s name for confidentiality reasons. He liked our projects for the European market, and became interested in creating a fresh, unordinary offer under our PRO concept for such a specific city as New York. For our client, the attempt to bring housing of new quality, new apartment layouts to the American market is also an experiment of sorts. Therefore, we are currently making a detailed budget estimate and forecasting possible risks. You can say that we are now at the stage of the project’s financial modeling. If this airplane does take off, the implementation will follow. However, I do not rule out the situation when improvement might be required. And we are ready for that.

And Russian version of this article you can find here.

Snail Apartments by Archimatika. Image source: archimatika, 2019