The Oosten: China Chooses Brooklyn
WHEN DUTCH ARCHITECT PIET BOON first visited Williamsburg, Brooklyn, he was reminded of home.
“It reminded me a lot of the north of Amsterdam – I liked the location and the industrial look,” the designer says on the phone from his studio in Oostzaan, outside Amsterdam. The comparison is not surprising considering it was Dutch settlers who first occupied the area in the mid 17th century. The neighbourhood later developed into an industrial zone with printing shops and textile factories and became home to immigrants from Eastern Europe and Latin America.
Today’s Williamsburg is dramatically changed. Former factories have been converted into loft apartments; luxury condominium towers are being constructed along a revitalised waterfront. Further east, streets lined with distinctive clapboard houses are home to trendy restaurants, cafes and bars. In recent years, young executives have joined the artists and entrepreneurs who first congregated in the area a decade ago – New Yorkers now have cause to cross the Williamsburg Bridge.
Piet Boon, who has exported his luxury design brand to over 47 countries, was charmed by the neighbourhood and by the plans for The Oosten, a 500,000sqft residential project from XIN Development Group International, the US arm of China’s Xinyuan Real Estate Co. Ltd.
Several of China’s largest developers have entered the US market in recent years – China Vanke, Greenland Holdings and Dalian Wanda Group, to name a few – but XIN Development Group International is the first New York- listed Chinese developer to build property in the United States, and without a local partner.
The developers spent a year developing a local team that would put them on par with local companies. “We have full capability and expertise in construction, in engineering,” says John Liang, Executive Vice President, Xinyuan Real Estate Co. Ltd, who manages the company’s New York office. “Even me, I’m trained in architecture and built buildings in the US so we can talk freely with contractors and Piet Boon and understand their language.”
The developers also wanted to find an architect with international flair who had experience designing large living spaces, a key distinguishing feature of the project. “Piet had an aesthetic that was clean and constructible on this scale,” says Ryan Black, Director of Development at XIN in New York. “He really has a personality and demeanour that is characteristic of Williamsburg and that could fit the neighbourhood and resonate with the international demographic.”
The Oosten will encompass a two-acre lot and feature 216 large residences that average 1,450sqft – nearly double the average size in Williamsburg – including one, two and three bedroom units, a collection of 14 townhouses, and four sprawling five-bedroom duplex penthouses. The townhouses will have private gardens with Jacuzzis, while penthouse owners will enjoy private roof terraces. Prices range from US$700,000 to US$6 million.
The chance to work on oversized residences was a draw for Piet Boon, although the scale of the units also presented a challenge. “The residences are really huge, so it was difficult to get a lot of light and a lot of openness,” he says. The designer devised an open layout and used large window frames and straight lines to bring light into the homes.
The aesthetic throughout leans toward a light and natural feel, but maintaining an industrial look was also important for the team. Iron slabs, paned windows and red bricks on the exterior help to put the building in context and, Boon says, gives it more staying power. “It is a little bit of a rough building – and I hope as it gets older it gets more beautiful.”
An understated style also fits with the quieter southern section of Williamsburg, which is home to Latino and Hasidic Jewish populations and still retains more of its former flavour – an advantage for buyers, according to Ryan Black. “North Williamsburg reminds me of the meatpacking district. It started rough, then it became a good place to live and then it became incredibly trendy. Not many people want to live there, but it’s great to live just south of it.”
That’s not to say residents at The Oosten won’t have access to a range of services – a local butcher, gourmet diner and a new upscale supermarket are just around the corner. “It’s the best of both worlds,” says Black. The Oosten will also feature 40,000sqft of amenity space, including an indoor pool, a gym, a sauna and steam room, a juice and coffee bar, a library, and a rooftop terrace with a reflection pool and views of lower Manhattan and the Williamsburg Bridge. Residents will also have access to a large common courtyard. The first units are scheduled for completion at the end of 2015.
Developers are targeting local and international buyers – in particular, Chinese buyers. “When we first came into the market, we asked ourselves: this is the toughest area in the US to get anything built, what exactly is the advantage that Xinyuan has, compared with local companies with local expertise, capital, track record etc.?” says John Liang. “We are no better than the next good guy. The only clear advantage we have is our customers are in China.”
This story first appeared in Palace