“It just hit me, the idea of doing a piano, since we had room for it” is the architect Yochi Nussenzweig’s not entirely satisfying explanation of his design for a new building on Evergreen Avenue in Bushwick. It’s an eight-unit rental (with three apartments designated affordable), ready for occupancy in the next few months, and it has, as you have perhaps noticed, a giant 60-key piano keyboard scaling its façade. Nussenzweig further explains that when he realized there was an unadorned strip of brick up the center of the building’s street front between the windows, inspiration struck, and five octaves of aluminum ebony and ivories were soon on the way. When Brownstoner posted the renderings a few days ago, they elicited a there-goes-the-neighborhood groan online. One person on Twitter wrote that “Bushwick is going to overtake Williamsburg in the most insufferable Brooklyn neighborhoods ranking within a year.”
Is it, in fact, an attempt to attract “creatives” who might be musicians? Nussenzweig, who is 28, doesn’t have much to add beyond “this client likes unique and interesting designs,” and certainly this qualifies. (Though perhaps “distinctive” is more accurate than “unique”: The Country Music Hall of Fame comes close.) It generally fits into the long tradition of architectural follies and curios, buildings that make little sense in their context but are charming enough to become, on occasion, distinctive and even beloved bits of a cityscape over time. If a hot-pink brownstone can become enough of a local phenomenon that repainting it brown is newsworthy, why can’t a Billy Joel apartment building become a local landmark? It is the 1980s piano-key tie of buildings.
Does Nussensweig, who also designs offices, synagogues, and houses, play the piano himself? He does indeed, a little. Growing up in Williamsburg, he says, “we used to have a keyboard at home, so I got to know how,” he says. This megakeyboard, of course, is unplayable — and any pianist will tell you that the black keys are rendered a little too small. But if they’d been laid down on the sidewalk instead of on the façade, you just know that they’d end up being a local guidepost. You could, conceivably, tell people “Meet me by the low C,” and grownup 1980s kids would be reenacting Big out front every weekend.