Friday, November 22, 2013

Central Park: Billionaires and Their Shadows

Last month's Daily News headline was "Freelancers hope to get paid now that Capital New York has been sold to Politico".
Let's hope so, this is pretty good although truth be told I don't know if a contributing editor at Vanity Fair is considered a freelancer.

From Capital New York:
It was a cold November afternoon in Battery Park, even with the sun beating down, and it would have been colder if master builder Robert Moses had gotten his way, back in 1939, when he tried to build a new bridge connecting Brooklyn and lower Manhattan.
The Moses plan called for elevated rampways and huge concrete piers that would have taken up much of Battery Park and left the remaining open space in deep shadow. But a band of prominent New Yorkers, aided by Moses' arch enemy, Franklin D. Roosevelt, fought back in time to save the park and to keep the sunlight for this piece of Manhattan. It was a rare defeat for the city's most powerful man.

My curiosity about shadows in the city landscape is what had led me here. Even with the City Council having just rejected the east midtown rezoning plan, slender new skyscrapers will continue to rise all over town, from Leonard Street, through Hudson Yards, and onto the south end of Central Park, and with the building boom will come new shadows.

I was walking through Battery Park on my way to the Skyscraper Museum, founded in 1996 by Carol Willis, an architectural historian who teaches urban studies at Columbia University. She was leading a 3 p.m. tour of her latest exhibit, "Sky High: The Logic of Luxury," which focuses on the advent of tall, skinny buildings throughout Manhattan, with an emphasis on the ones at Central Park's south end.

My interest in the subject had been stoked by "Shadows Over Central Park," an Oct. 28 New York Times op-ed by Warren St. John. I was trying to determine for myself whether the shadows to be cast by the supertowers were worth worrying about—or was this just a micro-concern for urban wusses who like to complain about almost any change?

Willis is an energetic woman in her sixties. The color of her loose, curly hair is academic white. She launched into an enthusiastic, slam-bang history of skyscrapers for me and the five other men who had shown up before hitting her main topic: the new breed of unusually thin towers.

One of these is the nearly completed glass tower called One57, a 1,004-foot residential building at 157 West 57th Street. This is the structure made famous during superstorm Sandy, when a crane dangled from an upper story, causing an evacuation. It made news once again last month, when one of its apartments, a duplex penthouse, reportedly sold for more than $90 million. Gary Barnett's Extell Development Company is the builder, working from plans by Christian de Portzamparc, who won the 1994 Pritzker Prize for architecture.

The developer Harry Macklowe is deep into construction of another such building, 432 Park, not far to the east of One57; it will reach a height of 1,396 feet—technically higher than the new World Trade Center, which tops out at 1,368 feet, before its spire hits the magic number of 1,776.

Another residential tower—this one to come in at 1,350 feet, developed by Michael Stern's JDS Construction Group—will rise between the Macklowe and Barnett buildings. The Skyscraper Museum's exhibit features large-scale models of all three, and Willis seemed house-proud as she showed them off.
"Engineers could have built slender buildings for decades," she said. "In effect, there's nothing very special about the technology of them. It's the land value of New York, and it's New York's characteristic zoning and air-rights transfers of property that allow for the buildings to become very tall. And it's the view of Central Park that creates the high prices. When a developer thinks about his projects, he knows how much money he is going to make. Today we have an excited market, and these buildings are commanding $6,000 to $8,000—even $13,000—per square foot, sales prices that allow you take the next step in development logic of these buildings, which is the logic of luxury."

After the tour, Willis told me to think of the towers as special entities similar, in a way, to "rare flowers that can grow only in the Galapagos Islands," because a combination of special factors (an exuberant market, the rise of the billionaire class, the Central Park views) has made made them specific architectural creatures native to Manhattan. Buildings in Dubai, to which they are often compared, are actually fatter, Willis said; the only similar structure is in Hong Kong.

When I asked her, in a phone interview, about the issue of the Central Park shadows, she said: "It's really important to know how slender these buildings are. People imagine the shadows will be huge and overbearing, but the shadow for 111 57th Street is going to be 50 feet wide and it's going to travel very quickly. The super slender towers are a new form in the history of the skyscraper. Once we begin to appreciate that part of it, and get away from the outrage of the $90-million penthouses and the resentment that rich people are going to throw shadows onto Central Park, then they become something special, rather than just another mundane tower."...MORE