The International Gem Tower (IGT) may be the only building in New York with a name that alludes to both facade and function. Its exterior of interlocking facets connotes the precious stones that will be bought and sold inside. The architects appear to have followed a modified modernist dictum “facade follows function,” and the result is generally satisfying, both for symbolic reasons and as an aesthetic object.
Symbolically speaking, the design of the IGT is strongly contextual, as it signifies its location in the Diamond District, the site of much of the wholesale diamond business in the United States. The Diamond District is an increasingly isolated example of a place that dominates an industry, and is for this reason a particularly suitable place for such symbolism. Meanwhile, the icons of Wall Street and Seventh Avenue stand increasingly isolated from the dispersed industries they represent. The endurance of the Diamond District, perhaps aided by the addition of the IGT – and, admittedly, tax incentives – is appealingly quaint. On the question of permanency, it is perhaps notable that the tenants of the IGT will own rather than lease their space. This may be reassuring to those who seek a sense of place and find it lacking in a world of mobile firms, anonymous office buildings and fungible office space.
Aesthetically speaking, the facade of the IGT is like a monochromatic kaleidoscope. Different patterns become visually prominent depending on the light and the viewing angle. Sometimes, the building appears festooned with diamonds. At other vantage points, the diamonds aren’t visible and instead, facets at different levels link to form step-like patterns that zigzag down the building. Depending on the angle, these zigzag patterns sometimes appear to go from right-to-left, and sometimes appear to go from left-to-right.
Needless to say, this building is fun to look at, although all of this whimsy may come with a cost. The facets of the building at times reflect very bright light onto the street in a way somewhat reminiscent of the “Walkie Talkie” building in London, which has concentrated light onto an adjacent street, burning carpets and melting cars. The concentration of light reflected onto the street by the Gem Tower isn’t nearly as extreme however, and could even prove to be beneficial during winter months.