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Photo: Leong Leong.
Leong Leong’s Ray Fishtown in Philadelphia is meant to surround residents with art. A Russian philanthropist is collaborating on the project.

I thought this article about including original art and artists’ studios in residential buildings was interesting. I confess, however, that the extreme wealth of the young Russian woman who is behind the concept makes me uncomfortable. She’s the daughter of an oligarch, and it’s hard for me to believe anyone makes a fortune in Russia without workers suffering. Of course, we also have guys like that.

As Taylor Dafoe reported at Artnet News, “Russian collector Dasha Zhukova, who founded Moscow’s Garage Museum of Contemporary Art, has launched a new real-estate venture with the aim of bringing residential apartments, art studios, and exhibition spaces together under one roof.

“Ray, as Zhukova’s new business is called, already has two major developments underway, in Manhattan and Philadelphia. Its website describes them as ‘vertical villages’ and notes that prices will be ‘accessible.’ …

“Mexico City-based architect Frida Escobedo, who in 2018 became the youngest architect ever commissioned to build London’s Serpentine Pavilion, will lead the design of the 21-story development Ray Harlem.

“The building’s first four floors will serve as the new home of Harlem’s historic National Black Theatre, founded in 1968 by Barbara Ann Teer, and will include spaces for performance, events, and retail. The rest of the building will feature 222 apartments, artist studios, co-working spaces, as well as communal kitchens and libraries. …

“Ray Fishtown, a 110-unit building in Philadelphia designed by the architecture firm Leong Leong, is under construction now and boasts a similar slate of amenities, including a half-dozen street-level artist studios. New York artist Rashid Johnson will create a living greenhouse in the building’s lobby while Philadelphia-based artist Michelle Lopez will add a text-based intervention on the split brick facade. Lopez will also work out of a studio at the development and become its inaugural artist in residence when it opens. …

“Designer Suzanne Demisch, who’s been recruited by Ray to work on the upcoming projects, tells Artnet News that the firm will look to work with ’emerging and established artists, designers, and architects’ who are ‘local’ and ‘forward-thinking.’

“Demisch, who’s worked with Zhukova on various projects for a decade, says the philanthropist first articulated her vision for Ray five or six years ago. … ‘She asked me if I would join her in defying the traditional boundaries of architecture and design in the residential field and [creating] more equitable access to the built spaces of the future.’  

“Zhukova seems to have taken some inspiration for Ray from the Garage Museum building, which was designed by Rem Koolhaas and has proved to be as big a draw as the programming inside, Zhukova told the Wall Street Journal. … 

“ ‘Even if [visitors] had seen all the shows that we had on, they would just stay and hang out in our lobby,’ she said. ‘They would hang out in our cafe for hours on end—just come back day after day because they wanted to be in that environment.’ 

“Each of Ray’s developments will offer its future inhabitants a grip of perks calibrated to the creative culture of their respective cities and neighborhoods, including workshops with local artists and live events sponsored by nearby arts organizations.”

More at Artnet, here, and at Ray Fishtown, here. The pandemic undoubtedly slowed the Ray timeline, but I’m going to keep an eye on it and see how it turns out. I’m especially curious how they plan to deliver the “equitable” aspect as I feel sure they’ll be able to get high-paying buyers with a concept like that.

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