Sheltering the sidewalk is a fabric entrance canopy printed on top and bottom with a graphic treatment by Ara Starck, the Paris-born, New York-based artist. Seen from below, the work, named Stonehenge Stellaris, offers a surreal take on the heavens — an abstract map of Manhattan depicting Stonehenge NYC’s 23 rental buildings as constellations, where your location is indicated by a company logo. The top of the canopy, viewable from apartments above, depicts leafy branches that blossom into human hands.
“The awning is very important because it’s the first thing that greets you and then the last thing you see when you leave,” said Ms. Starck, a daughter of the high-profile designer Philippe Starck.
“I’m not the type of painter who thinks that art should be in a gallery,” added Ms. Starck, who has painted expansive ceilings in hotels designed by her father, including Le Meurice in Paris and SLS South Beach in Miami Beach. “The more I can go outside the frame, or even outside on the street, the happier I am.”
Manhattan’s ubiquitous entrance canopies, typically made with plain fabric pulled over a metal frame, seemed ripe for creative experimentation, Ms. Starck said, because they were almost “a blank canvas.”
To realize the canopy at 41 Park Avenue, she painted and then digitally scanned artwork so it could be printed on the durable fabric.
Over the coming years, as the canopies at Stonehenge NYC’s other buildings need to be replaced, all are expected to receive the same treatment, customized for location.
Other developers and designers have also turned their attention to what stands sentry over the entrances to buildings.
In condominium projects by the development firm DDG, “the awning is of critical importance, because it drives the arrival sequence,” said Joseph A. McMillan Jr., chairman and chief executive. “We attempt to combine the practical with the whimsical.”
At 12 Warren, for instance, the canopy is clad in rough-hewed chunks of bluestone, the same material used in the building facade, and will be planted on top to look almost like a wild mountain ledge.
It is similar to DDG’s building at 345 West 14th Street, where a concrete canopy with a shape reflecting the meatpacking district’s traditional steel canopies is punctured with large kidney-shaped holes to provide views from the sidewalk to vegetation growing on top.
“You walk under the garden,” Mr. McMillan said. “It really causes people to stop and look; that’s something we endeavor to do with all our projects.”
At Extell Development Company’s One57, designed by the architect Christian de Portzamparc, a pair of canopies were given a sculptural treatment to look as though the building’s facade has curled up in a series of rippling ribbons.
Even at buildings that aim for a more traditional sense of luxury, canopies are being updated.
“Fabric canopies grow out of this very old New York tradition, but they have become much more sophisticated than they used to be,” said Paul L. Whalen, a partner at Robert A. M. Stern Architects.
At the Four Seasons Private Residences at 30 Park Place, for instance, the fabric canopy that Mr. Whalen and his team designed has a vaguely wavelike form, and contains integrated heating and concealed lighting that makes the whole underside glow at night. Sculptural faux-bois bronze posts will also soon replace temporary stainless steel ones.
Going to such lengths is worth it, because a distinctive canopy can say a lot about a building’s style and aspirations, Mr. Whalen noted: “It is the building’s calling card on the street.”
Ofer Yardeni, the chairman and chief executive of Stonehenge NYC, said his company had created a certain lifestyle for its buildings. “When it came to the front of the building, we also had a desire to create something different,” he said. “We had the desire for people to stop and say ‘Wow,’” which is why Stonehenge’s canopies chose the art of Ms. Starck, a painter who is married to David Furst, the international picture editor for The New York Times.
“Why should art only be inside the apartments?” Mr. Yardeni said.