A view to the Empire State Building, sunrise behind Central Park from the world’s tallest high-rise or dawn from the most exclusive apartments of Trump World Tower—many of us would love to see Manhattan from above, but only very few can do it from their own living room. With the help of Gabriella, an apartment-hunting Hungarian billionaire, you can now take a peek into the world of New York’s most luxurious high-rise properties.
Gabriella is, as a matter of fact, the alter ego of visual artist-architect Andi Schmied, who explored and documented the luxurious apartments of New York’s skyscrapers by inhabiting this fictional persona. Her project dubbed Private Views uncovers the hidden, exclusive and luxurious yet unsustainable world of Manhattan’s tower houses.
Andi’s projects revolve around the relationship and interplay between architecture and the society. Initially she studied industrial design in Barcelona, then urban architecture in London, but she soon realized that, after all, she wasn’t cut out for it. “The mechanisms of urban architecture are still very much about building taller, all the more luxurious and expensive investments, thus sustaining the system that is leading us to our downfall. Finally the only form of urban architecture I could relate to was simply to show the architectural phenomena and systems to the public that are responsible for the continuously growing inequalities in a comprehensible and construable manner—and to hope that this, too, will have an effect someday, somehow,” Andi shared with us.
A characteristic feature of her works is the critical approach she takes to the various architectural phenomena—in her visual art projects, she explores urban anomalies and issues: such as which are the places that should not have been built at all, or, if they should have, in what alternative way they should have been built. “Radical urban architect Mike Davis once instructed his students to create an ideal San Francisco by doing nothing else but getting rid of already existing structures, the disappearance of which would make the city a better place,” Andi highlighted. Dubbed Jing Jin City, her project released in 2015, in the framework of which she visited a ghost luxury city in North China, has a similar motivation underneath. In her latest book titled Private Views: A High-Rise Panorama of Manhattan, she shifted her focus to Manhattan’s luxurious high-rise properties.
Manhattan’s panorama is, in fact, only accessible to the elite. Ordinary people only get to enjoy the iconic cityscape from a few spots, including the observatory of the Empire State Building—actually this is the place where Andi Schmied was when she conceived the idea of Private Views. Andi spent a few months in New York in the framework of an artist grant, where she had the chance of climbing up to the top of the Empire State Building, where she was immediately mesmerized by the panorama. Then she became intrigued about neighboring buildings of similar height, and she longed to see and document the city from above, yet from a different perspective.
She started to explore the area and look for buildings she wanted to climb in order to take photos. It soon became clear to her that as an artist she had no chance of entering these luxurious properties, and so she decided to inhabit an alter ego, Gabriella (Gabriella is the artist’s second name, thus it is also included in her passport—the Ed.). The imaginary persona is the wife of a Hungarian billionaire looking for a new home, through whom Andi could gain access to the world of luxurious high-rise properties reserved for the elite.
The story was slowly growing into an art project and an anthropological study, and eventually the interactions with real estate agents and the luxurious interiors captured took the shape of a book. The book published in an album-like format in approximately 200 pages is divided into three parts, with a map of Manhattan with the silhouettes of the 25 buildings visited right at the very beginning. This is followed by three chapters: the first is a longer interview with the Andi and Gabriella, done by Irena Lehkozivová and Barbora Spicaková, the editors of the book.
The second chapter titled The Buildings presents the 25 buildings together with informative texts, thus offering an insight into the various aspects and downside of the world of Manhattan’s most exclusive properties.
“The photos depict the view from the buildings, and the readers can read Gabriella’s conversations with real estate agents. These dialogues are sometimes utterly bizarre, and illustrate this odd world out of reach for many vividly,” Andi added.
In the third chapter titled Perspectives, experts express their views on the topic, including sociologist Sharon Zukin, who puts New York’s luxurious apartments into a historical context, architect and critic Michael Sorkin (passed away this year) who presents two skyscrapers through his own experiences, and architectural critic Anthony Vidler, who is purchasing 15 Hudson Yards Penthouse disguised as a billionaire.
The book published by the Prague-based VI PER Gallery explores buildings including Trump Tower, 432 Park Avenue, which is the tallest residential building in the world, the Frank Gehry Tower with one of the fastest elevators in operation or 15 Central Park West with the highest square meter price in the entire United States, amongst others. You can get your own copy of Private Views: A High-Rise Panorama of Manhattan at the artist’s website.