Art, Architecture, People Watching – the Standard Hotel, New York City

Wednesday, 25 January 2023

In the 22 December 2022 issue of The New York Review of Books, talking about art and architecture, Martin Filler praised New York City’s High Line: ‘a collaboration among the landscape firm James Corner Field Operations, the horticulturist Piet Oudolf, and the architects Diller Scofidio + Renfro. It’s the biggest urban-design success story since the turn of the millennium and a model for the conversion of disused infrastructure in cities and towns around the world. Central to its astounding popularity is the architects’ awareness that people-watching is an irresistible pleasure of city life.’

▲  People watching the High Line from my room in the Standard Hotel

Coincidentally as I read the article I was enjoying a flat white at a streetside café in Melbourne, Australia, a fine city for coffee and people watching. For anybody who hasn’t strolled the High Line it’s a ‘linear park’ built along a disused elevated railway freight line.

◄  In late 2009 I stayed in the Standard Hotel when it was trendy and new and getting a lot of attention because of its position straddling the equally new and trendy High Line. When it first opened the ‘people watching’ was often a case of people walking the High Line and watching the people in the hotel. The rooms are all glassed in wall-to-wall and floor-to-ceiling and more than a few guests seemed remarkably nonchalant about pulling the blinds down before they got their clothes on. Or got it on in general.


Googling “Standard Hotel” and “voyeurism” or “naked” brings up the story. Well the Meat Packing District, where the hotel and High Line are located, was a sex and sin area before its current revamp. The meat business (and sex business) has made way for trendy restaurants and boutiques, Stella McCartney to Alexander McQueen.

▲ Some people watching I photographed right outside the Standard Hotel on my 2009 visit.

▲ Apart from people watching the High Line I also became somewhat obsessive about the screensaver style TV screens in the lifts. There were two of them in each elevator which scrolled through a constantly changing melange of scenes, many of them movie scenes. One of the staff commented that even after months at the hotel he was still picking up more little pieces from the picture. I even rode the lifts/elevators further just to watch what was happening – everything from topless galley rowers to two little girls dancing the twist, a space shuttle blasting off to scenes from Springtime for Hitler, a muscle flexing Schwarzenegger to a Kylie absinthe fairy. I’ve no idea if that elevator entertainment is still running.