Gone in a flash...

Friday 10 Sep 2010

Is Long Island City’s new Murano building an icon or a just a plain old con?

The Murano is one of the new residential buildings recently built in Long Island City (LIC) in response to the neighborhood’s growing popularity. Situated on the East River, this former industrial area of Queens - known as LIC by the locals - was declared ‘the next hot neighborhood in New York’ by the New York Times. And who could argue with its reasoning - LIC has a lot going for it. The neighborhood is one subway stop from Midtown, it has a strong core of cultural institutions like MoMA PS 1 and the Noguchi Museum that earlier staked a claim there and, depending on one’s location, the area offers breathtaking views of Manhattan. But LIC is also a neighborhood in transition that is not quite ready for prime time. As such, it continues to grapple with the challenges that beset a neighborhood in flux, such as it’s on again off again public transportation service which is currently more inclined to be ‘mostly off’, making getting around exceedingly inconvinent - especially for commuters.

But those who can grit their teeth and endure the neighborhood’s growing pains can live large in Long Island City and for a fraction of the cost of living in Manhattan. For buildings like the Murano, which average $600 a sq ft compared to $1000 for similarly appointed space in Manhattan, buyers can ‘buy up’ in LIC but they do so while running the risk that their $750,000 2 bedroom, 2-bath apartment may never be worth millions. Indeed, buying an upscale apartment in an unproven neighborhood like LIC is a risky venture, which is why some developers of buildings there have resorted to selling a lifestyle to create desire and imbue their buildings with added value they have yet to acquire.

The Murano is a case in point. It relies on gimmicky marketing ploys to align itself with a brand of incomparable quality to gain instant street-cred and elevate the project’s status among its competitors. Originally named the ‘Prism’, the 11- storey glass building - developed by Hudson Equities and designed by Gilman Architects - was re-branded the Murano, after the famous Italian island known for its glassmaking. While Murano and LIC are both populated with factories and artists’ lofts, the similarity between the two ends there. Unlike its namesake, the Murano of LIC relies more on flash than craft to make its point. The building features a ‘light clock’ that illuminates the building’s lobby and façade with a different color every hour. While such lighting effects are common in today’s architecture, the Technicolor light show exhibited by Murano seems to have more in common with Times Square than the luxury building image it attempts to convey. And it appears to use its glitz to signify that the building is part of ‘the new’ and therefore hip.

Another feature of the building that is lost in translation is the moat, of which there are two. The building’s website states that the moat is intended as a threshold between the harsh environment of the city and the serene nature of the building. But here the island metaphor is taken too far as the Murano sits in a desolate landscape, albeit one with potential, bordered by the Long Island Rail Yards and vacant industrial buildings and is within eyeshot of the air intake tower of the Queens Midtown Tunnel. A moat in a moribund landscape does not an oasis make but the developer of the Murano would perhaps like its buyers to think so.

If you can get past these distractions, the building’s 81 eco-friendly units are chock full of style, with the design of its interior spaces being more restrained and elegant than the building design. Most of the apartments have floor to ceiling windows, white oak floors and gourmet kitchens with Miele and SMEG appliances. The bathrooms are cast in a palette of grey, light wood, and crisp white, blending modern design with environmental responsibility. Select residences have terraces with views of Manhattan.

For the most part, The Murano is a building that portends to be something greater than it is. The building is a mid level quality developer building boldly posing as an architectural landmark and dishonestly at that, as its plays fast and footloose with the true conditions of the project and the neighborhood, using seductive renderings and analogies to paradisiacal places to draw buyers awhile eschewing the truth in favor of a more palatable reality.

Sharon McHugh
US Correspondent

Key Facts:

United States

Want to submit your project to World Architecture News?

Contact The Team