The Chelsea headquarters of David Zwirner gallery is so new that there isn’t any art on the walls.

That didn’t matter to a crowd of New Yorkers huddling in the foyer of 520 West 20th Street this weekend, eager to traipse through one of the power centers of the contemporary art world.

“We didn’t want it to be Google-like,” Wells Megalli of Selldorf Architects, which designed the space, told Hyperallergic.

The guided tour of Zwirner’s offices was part of Open House New York, an annual festival celebrating the city’s built environment. It began two decades ago to promote openness as a value in civic life in response to the increased security measures that arose after 9/11, and has since grown to offer free access to 334 sites including skyscrapers, houses of worship, art and design studios, museums, and private homes. One could spend the weekend only visiting Dutch colonial farmhouses in the outer boroughs or Presbyterian churches in Manhattan and come away fulfilled. At Hyperallergic, we chose locations with a visual arts component, including Zwirner’s temple of minimalism.

David Zwirner Gallery’s Chelsea office designed by Selldorf Architects includes modular cubicles and a pine bookshelf that contains 1,500 linear feet of art books.

Back in Chelsea, Megalli explained that converting a former parking garage into a 36,000-square-foot office was challenging because the site was located below the floodplain. In order to prevent the damage that Chelsea galleries experienced during Hurricane Sandy, Selldorf designed a bathtub-like structure underneath the building and regraded the sidewalks. There also needed enough storage above the ground floor so artworks wouldn’t get damaged.

The interior’s white walls and gray concrete floors accented by a pine bookcase that contained 1500 linear feet of books had a chic, collegial feel that Megalli called “fun but not too fun.” Staff who were present noted the third-floor kitchen and constant supply of snacks including Baby Bella cheese, hummus cups, and Chobani yogurt as particular draws. 

“I love the couch, it feels like I’m working from home,” Carleigh Koger, an executive assistant, said. “I eat my breakfast here often.”

Dattner Architects’s David Levine leads a tour of Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation’s offices at Chestnut Commons.
Visitors explore the garden at Amant’s East Williamsburg art campus. 

Future art industry professionals have a new facility of their own across town at Chestnut Commons, a 14-story affordable housing complex and community hub at 110 Dinsmore Place that opened a year ago. The Dattner Architects-designed building is also home to the Cypress Hills Local Development Corporation, which offers programs in partnership with Kingsborough Community College and houses a computer lab, fitness studio, and a commercial kitchen.

The building’s apartments have been enormously sought after — there were roughly 80,000 applicants for 274 units and the nonprofit has had high demand for its ESL classes.

But its arts programs have been slow to develop after one of its partners, Arts East New York, went defunct during the pandemic. Dattner converted a black box theater into a half-court basketball gym while Cypress Hills LDC has hosted painting classes for children and seniors. Reps with the nonprofit said they would welcome additional programs.

Another arts organization that opened during the pandemic in North Brooklyn has been thriving. Amant, a $40 million arts nonprofit organization designed by SO-IL, was celebrating artist Shilpa Gupta’s new exhibition with an afternoon of poetry readings of banned texts. 

Tom Gallagher of DLR Group points to religious iconography inside St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Lower Manhattan as part of an Open House tour.
St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Manhattan, designed by Santiago Calatrava, was part of this weekend’s New York Open House

The East Williamsburg art campus had received some criticism for being an interloper in the neighborhood but Amant’s staff have since hosted events and workshops with community organizations including St. Nicks Alliance, Friends of Cooper Park, and the Swinging Sixties Senior Center.

“It was designed to be free all the time,” Dan Duray, a spokesperson for Amant, said. “People come to the bookstore during the day and use it as their office.”

In addition to ticketed events and self-guided sites, Open House New York held several virtual tours. One that caught our eye was a Feminist Walk Through Harlem, run by Leigh Hallingby, a licensed city tour guide, who shared stories of murals of A’Lelia Walker, Nicholasa Mohr, and Zora Neale Hurston.

Yasmín Hernández’s 2011 “Soldaderas” mural was featured in Open Houses’s Feminist Walk Through Harlem (photo courtesy Leigh Hallingby)

Finally, Open House New York extended its hours into the evening to allow after-hours visits to sites that are rarely open to the public. That included St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church, the Santiago Calatrava-designed holy site that reopened last December after the original church was destroyed during 9/11.

The tour was led by Tom Gallagher, an architect with DLR Group, who shared his insights about how he illuminated the sanctuary’s nooks and crannies with museum-quality lighting fixtures that ensured a warm, ambient glow.

“All great architecture is about structure, space and light,” he said. “It’s about experiencing a space that you cannot replicate in a book. So you have to think about access for everyone.” 

Aaron Short is a Brooklyn-based journalist covering politics, criminal justice, real estate, the environment, and the arts. His work has appeared in New York Magazine, the New York Post, The Daily Beast,...

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