Friday, May 1, 2015

An Even Taller Manhattan

A rendering of projected new towers, many under construction, some still in planning in Manhattan and downtown Brooklyn to the year 2020 from The New York Post.

New York City is going through its biggest building boom since the Great Depression.  Perhaps that is a measure of the depths of our lingering economic crisis.  Just as in the 1930s, the combination of cheap labor, cheap building materials, and ever more concentrated wealth creates opportunities for construction on an immense scale.  At least 4 new buildings currently under construction will dwarf the Empire State Building when they are finished.  One of these new buildings will be (unofficially) the tallest building in the city.
What is different about today's building boom is that most of these huge buildings will be residential.  Four Thirty Two Park Avenue is already taller than the Empire State Building and will soon hold the title of the world's tallest residential building.  It is all condominiums supposedly selling for a minimum price of $50 million for a unit on the lower floors.  The penthouse, rumored to be priced at $150 million, has already sold.  Instead of office towers rented out by corporations using these buildings as headquarters, these are entirely private buildings off limits to the public.  Most of the buyers are international plutocrats looking for secure and profitable places to park their money.  Manhattan real estate is very much in demand as just such an investment.
Very few of these investors will actually live in these residences.  Many will sublet them to slightly less wealthy tenants.  Other units may well remain vacant as pied-a-terres with a live in staff, and visited by the owner only occasionally if at all.

Here are my photos of 432 Park Avenue.  Pardon the schmutzig pictures.  The trusty little digital needs to go to the shop.

432 Park Avenue viewed from Williamsburg in Brooklyn.  That's the UN in the foreground with the Trump residential tower on the right (at one time the tallest residential building in the world).  You can see the two green towers of the Waldorf-Astoria on the left.

 A close up of the new tower.  I think it has topped out, but as you can see, it is still under construction.

 A picture that I took last year of 432 Park Avenue under construction from the Bronx Community College campus.  The Empire State building is to the right.  Second from the right is the new WTC, still officially the tallest building in the city, and expected to remain so...officially.  You can see the top of the Chrysler Building on the left, with the Citicorp Tower and the new Bloomberg Center further left.  The spire on the far right is the top of the new Bank of America building by Bryant Park.

Midtown Manhattan at night photographed a few days ago from the Burnside Avenue station in the Bronx.  432 Park Avenue is the tall glowing blue thing on the left.

The reign of 432 Park Avenue as the tallest residential building in the world will be brief.  Already under construction and scheduled to be finished by 2018 is the new Nordstrom Tower near Carnegie Hall on West 57th street in Midtown.

Here are the latest renderings of the future Nordstrom Tower.  A huge hypodermic needle in the sky.

The Nordstrom Tower will be officially a multi-use tower, but as you can see, over half of it will be über-expensive residences above a thousand-dollar-a-night hotel.  The bottom 10 floors will be the largest Nordstrom's Department Store in the USA.  The penthouse at the top will have the world's highest private terrace.

The Nordstrom Tower will officially be the second tallest building in the city, just a foot short of the new WTC at 1775 feet.  However, the Tower will stand on ground that is 70 feet higher in elevation than the land supporting the WTC.  Thus, the new Nordstrom Tower will be the unofficial tallest building in the city.

Just wait until the next blackout.  Life for the residents of these ultra tall towers will be very interesting with no elevators and no running water.  I can't imagine living someplace so high that I might as well be in a plane.  But, as I said, most of these condominiums will likely remain empty.

These towers are objects of widespread resentment throughout the city and beyond.  The prices that these condominiums are fetching, even before they are built, are wildly skewing the city's housing market driving up already insanely high rents to even new heights of unaffordability, even in the less desirable parts where the city warehouses its poor in the Bronx and easternmost parts of Brooklyn and Queens.  That so much of this new high priced residential space will likely remain empty is especially galling since the city has its biggest homeless population since the Great Depression, and those who are housed are typically paying half or more of their incomes on rent.  Unscrupulous landlords are resorting to all kinds of measures, legal and illegal, to drive out longtime residents to make room for higher paying tenants.

It's hard to imagine a clearer and grander expression in architecture of our transition from democracy to oligarchy than these tall and taller towers.  Our overlords will indeed look down on us quite literally as the class divides harden and widen into chasms.  A coarse and brutal culture gets the brutal out-of-scale architecture that it deserves.  Albert Speer is smiling in his grave.

The new WTC is getting smaller and smaller, and the old Empire State Building will be practically a midget in a few years.


An article by Emily Badger in the Washington Post about the unanticipated costs of the building boom in cities like New York, San Francisco, and Washington DC.  It turns out that the shadows cast by these ever taller buildings is a very contentious issue.  The new towers on "Billionaires' Row" in Manhattan will cast shadows a mile into Central Park, and cast the whole southern part of the park into shade during certain times of the day.  Access to light is becoming the privilege of those who can afford it.  This pits the need to keep cities livable for the majority of the people who live there with the need for housing construction that drives construction ever higher.
And yet, none of the huge housing projects under construction here in New York (or in San Francisco or Washington for that matter) even remotely qualify as the 'affordable' housing that those cities need so desperately.  The towers of Manhattan are being built as lucrative investment property, not as housing.  Nothing of even remotely similar size is being built for middle class or poor families who now compete for all the remaining affordable rental space in relatively ground hugging buildings in Queens, the Bronx, and the remaining affordable areas of Brooklyn.
It is also striking how much this building boom has altered the makeup of neighborhoods and entire boroughs of New York.  My old neighborhood in the East Village is unrecognizable.  It is now so much richer and whiter than I remember it.  Even the old unofficial capital of Black America, Harlem, is getting richer and whiter.  The ethnic identity of neighborhoods in Brooklyn, even the white ones, is changing rapidly.  It used to be that you couldn't rent anything in Greenpoint unless you spoke Polish.  Now luxury condos are springing up all over Greenpoint housing people who either can't speak a word of Polish or learned it at Yale while working on their degrees in financial management.
In 1915, New York went through a lot of argument and controversy after the completion in 1913 of the Woolworth Building of unprecedented height for a historically ground hugging city.  In 1916, New York passed a zoning law requiring set-backs in tall buildings creating the distinctive look of so many older New York City skyscrapers that get narrower as they get taller.

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