Leaning out over the High Line with a captivating mix of awkwardness and grace, HL23 is one of the few genuinely arresting contemporary buildings in New York. Besides its gravity defying cantilevers, it has an otherworldly cache as the first freestanding building completed by architect Neil Denari, who had spent decades as a boundary-pushing theorist. Since its completion in 2011, HL23 has become a site of pilgrimage for architecture fans.
Now, a new gallery on the building's ground floor is poised to attract a new wave of devotees. Dubbed Chamber, the gallery conceives of itself as a cabinet of curiosities or, better yet, a postmodern reliquary—one of those half-hidden rooms in a church where the faithful come to venerate holy relics. But instead of the bones of saints, Chamber gathers works by some of the world's most sophisticated designers, including specially commissioned items, limited edition designs, and rare and vintage objects.
Juan Garcia Mosqueda, Chamber's founder, is a veteran of both the architecture and design department at MoMA as well as legendary New York design gallery Moss. To help curate Chamber's offerings, Garcia Mosqueda called on Dutch design duo Studio Job. Together with Garcia Mosqueda, Studio Job constructed a dream list of designers, from Theo Ruth to David Bowie (yes, that David Bowie). There are handbags by Devaux, children's toys by Ko Verzuu, sculpture by Alessandro Mendini, anda breast-shaped light fixture by Studio Job themselves.
Whereas HL23 seems to spring up and out from its tiny footprint with a strange inevitability, Chamber's ground floor interior takes a much more inward turn, a kind of designer catacomb. New York-based firm MOS, who designed the interior, had to make the most of what they say felt like a leftover space of the building. "This actually helps with the catacomb quality," says Hilary Sample, the firm's co-founder and principal.
According to sample, MOS wanted to create a space that feels below ground, a compact space, a space bearing weight. The arched ceilings reinforce this effect—and also reference Romanesque ecclesiastical architecture.
Besides an odd footprint, MOS had to work with a space full of elements that architects usually try to make disappear, like ducts and sprinklers. But instead of hide or obscure these things, MOS decided to embrace them.
"We were looking at all the elements individually, almost like a collection of objects on their own, an approach similar to the curatorial agenda of the store," say Sample and Meredith. "We were interested in the space of Tumblrs where people put different objects together and somehow a new space is produced."