Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat
New York’s New Delirium
October 2013
See Coverage of World Architecture Day 2013
See David Farnsworth's Presentation on Atlantic Yards B2
See More CTBUH Tours & Visits
NEW YORK CITY In the city where the “death of the skyscraper” was proclaimed 12 years ago, today, nothing could be further from the truth. CTBUH Editor Daniel Safarik reports on his journey to investigate further, meeting with some of the most influential developers behind the booming scene.

Since the turn of the decade, the pace of new construction in New York City can be split into two large categories: large planned developments and super-slim luxury residential infill. In both cases, developers and designers are pushing the limits of zoning, below-ground infrastructure and skyward structural engineering.

At least five once-in-a-lifetime multi-acre projects are underway in the city.

World Trade Center
One of the most-watched construction projects of the past 10 years, World Trade Center is finally taking recognizable shape as a group of buildings that do as much for enclosing public space as they do for defining the skyline – perhaps more so than did their ill-fated predecessors. With SOM’s Tower 1 poised to open in early 2014 and Fumihiko Maki’s Tower 4 celebrating its opening, along with a critical pedestrian tunnel between Brookfield Place (formerly World Financial Center) and the PATH subway station, the Trade Center site is becoming recognizable as a destination, rather than as a hole in the ground to be circumnavigated. At the center of it all, the somber fountains of the 9/11 Memorial, representing the foundations of the original Twin Towers drop water into a seemingly endless void. Although it’s impossible to avoid the gravity of the site’s history, the overall feeling is of excitement and rejuvenation, and the landscaped park surrounding the fountains is a significant improvement over the original hardscape.

Despite much-publicized cost overruns and political squabbling, the sense of accomplishment at Silverstein Properties is palpable. Standing next to a giant Lucite model of the site, senior manager of marketing and communications Gianna Frederique emphasized the level of coordination and collaboration that had to happen to make the immensely complicated project take form.

“Partners of all the architecture firms came down here and worked together in this office on the 10th floor at 7WTC,” Frederique said. “It would have taken so much longer if they had been apart. Larry [Silverstein] was at all of these meetings. He really wanted to know what was going on with his buildings.”
One World Trade Center © John W. Cahill
The intentionally visible resiliency of the site is on full display, though it is not as oppressive as some had feared. The cross-bracing still visible in the steel exoskeleton of the Durst Organization’s One World Trade Center’s base is massive, but it will be softened by a LED-filled glass enclosure.
Rendering of the completed World Trade Center complex in the New York City skyline
In Tower 2 and 3, diesel generators and ventilation equipment for the subterranean networks below form integral parts of the bases of the as-yet unfinished towers. In other cases, the resiliency is more subtle – the floor slabs of Tower 4 are as thick with concrete as a foundation slab would normally be; in the elevator core, they are nearly two feet (610 mm) thick, Frederique said. Such substantial design features contributed to the $1 billion construction cost of a building that is meant to almost disappear into the sky when viewed from outside.

Hudson Yards

Comprising 14 acres (5.7 hectares) of open space and 13.4 million square feet (1.2 million square meters) of office, retail and residential towers, Hudson Yards is an almost unimaginably large 29-acre (11.7 hectare) development on space-starved Manhattan. Though the area has long been a wasteland of industrial uses, the northward advance of the High Line elevated park and the southward advance of the Number 7 subway line from Times Square promise to incorporate the development into some of New York’s most vital neighborhoods. The marketing push behind the project is appropriately substantial – Related Companies, which is co-developing the site with Oxford Properties, is keeping Jay Cross, president of the Hudson Yards project, extremely busy. In just one week in October, Cross made three public appearances in support of the project.
Hudson Yards
Built above the Long Island Rail Road’s staging yards west of Penn Station, Hudson Yards will eventually include at least four towers of between 40 and 80 stories and a moving canopy called the “Culture Shed” by Diller Scofidio + Renfro and Rockwell Group – and that’s just on the eastern half of the property. To partially fill and complement the two commercial towers by Kohn Pedersen Fox bookending a large retail podium, standing across a new public square from residential towers by tall-building ace David Childs of SOM and novices DS+R/Rockwell, Hudson Yards broke ground in December 2012, but has already announced several significant “gets” in 2013. These include anchor commercial tenants L’Oreal, Coach and SAP, as well as an anchor public artist, Thomas Heatherwick, whose urchin-shaped UK Pavilion was the talk of the 2010 Shanghai Expo. 

Connectivity to the urban grid, carefully calibrated phasing, and a highly curated mix of uses are all critical aspects of the future success of the $15 billion project, said Cross. Related and Oxford are clearly mindful of the slow starts behind initially transit-poor Canary Wharf and other megaprojects of prior decades – particularly since the site was acquired from Canary Wharf’s bankrupt developer, Olympia & York.
Hudson Yards is going to be built over existing rail lines
Jay Cross, Hudson Yards, presents at WAD 13
“We think it is critical that for all the tenants who are coming, that there will be critical mass, and it won’t just be a big construction site,” Cross said. “That’s the beauty of mixed-use; it allows us to deliver two residential towers without oversaturating the residential market. We then get critical mass in the commercial towers, and then with those four towers, the retail now has an audience with which to populate the stores. These factors all feed on each other, and I think that a mixed-use master plan is a critical component – it also makes life extraordinarily complicated. We try not to mix uses in a single building, because it gets even more complicated. So far we have managed to keep buildings single-use without multiple entrance conditions.”

All of these factors are complicated further by the fact that no single building lies entirely on terra firma; each dances on complex transfer beams and pylons between the tracks below. The buildings’ supporting platform alone is expected to cost between $700 and $800 million.

A slightly different solution to a similar problem lies just to the east of Hudson Yards, where a (relatively) smaller project is simultaneously underway.

Manhattan West

Rail passengers are taking their last looks at the brief flash of light they are used to receiving just after emerging from the Hudson River tunnel, and just before they dive into the bowels of Penn Station. Soon this 12-track channel will also be plunged into darkness, but it will be in exchange for Manhattan West’s 1.5-acre (0.6-hectare) landscaped public plaza, set between two 60-story towers by SOM. Unlike Hudson Yards, the tower foundations at Manhattan West are on terra firma. But in order to support the plaza between them, a highly innovative, post-tensioned, precast segmental bridge technology had to be devised to span the active rail lines below, without interrupting train movements. The platform alone is a $290 million investment, said Philip Wharton, Senior Vice President of Development for Brookfield Office Properties, the owners of Manhattan West.
The plaza represents a continuation of 32nd St. as a pedestrian walkway that stays level while the streets on either side drop to the west. If Brookfield can reach an agreement with Hudson Yards to their west, this corridor could theoretically provide an uninterrupted pedestrian pathway from Penn Station, through the future Moynihan intercity rail station, and through both mega-developments, all the way to the Hudson River and High Line.

A portion of the pedestrian corridor could pass directly through an existing building positioned over the rail yards, 450 W. 33rd St., a heavy-set concrete ziggurat that once housed both the New York Daily News printing presses and stored furniture for retailer E.J. Korvette. While the building can structurally support and is zoned for a skyscraper, the current plan calls for re-cladding the structure and leasing to tenants in need of large floorplates, Wharton said. Including the two SOM towers, the project will comprise 6.2 million square feet (576,000 square meters) of office, residential and retail space.

Although Hudson Yards dwarfs Manhattan West in size, Wharton says the project’s ideal positioning between the High Line, which receives 3.5 million people per year, and Penn Station, which receives 600,000 travelers each day (219 million per year), will be beneficial for both developments.
Manhattan West
“Retail and residential feed off each other,” Wharton said. “Retail wants to be near retail, and near residential. The Fairway grocery store in the [Hudson Yards] Coach building will be great for us. Office is more competitive. But for two out of the three uses, we are very happy about the complementary nature.”

The idea that the Javits Convention Center, High Line, Chelsea art-gallery district, Penn and Moynihan stations will be fused together at the double ship-knot of Hudson Yards and Manhattan West is staggering to comprehend, even in a city used to superlatives.
Current Manhattan West Site
“It’s going to be amazing,” Wharton said. “Once this all is built out, it will be a whole other city here. There will be 25 million square feet of office space, 15,000 apartments, and maybe 150,000 to 200,000 people coming to work here each day.”

Atlantic Yards

While scheduling prevented a visit to Greenland Holdings Group / Forest City Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, great insights into that project were presented during October’s World Architecture Day 2013 (WAD 13).

Atlantic Yards will include about 6 million square feet (557,418 square meters) of residential space, 247,000 square feet (23,000 square meters) of retail, and about 336,000 square feet (31,000 square meters) of office space.
Speaking on a panel devoted to affordable housing at WAD 13, David Farnsworth, CTBUH New York City Representative and principal at Arup, expressed high hopes for the most distinguishing factor of Atlantic Yards’ housing component – modular construction. Atlantic Yards B2 Tower will become the tallest modular building in North America when completed.

“We need to reach a new paradigm of construction methodology in order to increase the supply of affordable housing,” Farnsworth said. “The only way to get prices down is to get supply increased. When construction costs are rising and rent rates are stagnant, there comes a point where there is no financial incentive for developers to build. I have confidence that, with modular, we can make all housing more affordable, not just subsidized housing.”

Like the other projects, transit connectivity is key to the success of the development, Farnsworth said. Like Hudson Yards, Atlantic Yards is also situated over a Long Island Rail Road yard and terminal, and is connected directly to the Atlantic Ave. subway station, where nine lines intersect, generating traffic of more than 11 million people a year.
B2, the first tower in the Atlantic Yards Project
Transit and pedestrian connectivity is the lynchpin of success for each of these tall-building projects.

The Superslims

While connectivity lends cachet to large-scale developments such as World Trade Center, Hudson Yards and Manhattan West, the tall and thin residential towers of upper Midtown are predicated on a delicate balance between proximity and exclusivity. If it could be summarized, the theme behind developments such as 432 Park, the Baccarat Tower and 111 West 57th Street would seem to be – “right in the middle of it… yet above it all.”
432 Park Baccarat Tower 111 West 57th Street
The visit included a quick jaunt to Battery Park, where curator Carol Willis took CTBUH’s Daniel Safarik and Antony Wood through The Skyscraper Museum’s exhibition, “Sky High and the Logic of Luxury,” which examines the luxury-superslim phenomenon in extraordinary detail. In addition to several human-sized scale models of the superslims, impressively lit from within, technical drawings and early study models were also on display.
The Sky High exhibit includes models of the superslims including 432 Park Ave (middle) and 111 West 57th Street (right)
At 111 West 57th, the extreme slenderness ratio of 1:23 on the 1,350-foot-tall, 60-foot wide tower may prove to be a record-breaker. But the point is not to set a record, even though the building will take advantage of 15,000 PSI concrete, once a rare commodity, and a pendulum damper to achieve this feat, according to Michael Stern, managing partner of JDS Development.

“It’s all about the views,” Stern said, articulating the well-considered if tight mechanics of building on a through lot that narrows to 43 feet on the south side in order to provide apartments views up and down the island. Forty-four boutique apartments will be served by two passenger and one service elevator all the way to the top – and will be sure to command the same upper-eight-figure prices of its nearby neighbors.

Nevertheless, the building doesn’t want for architectural panache – Stern hired SHoP Architects to create what he calls a “modern version of a classic New York skyscraper, with feathered setbacks.” JDS wanted to do something different than the glassy towers that have risen of late – something “more Woolworth’s than Dubai – somehow we’d gotten away from the romance, and we want to get back to that,” Stern said.
Although he hired SHoP on the strength of their “nerve” for cladding the contentious Barclays Center in Kor-Ten steel, he insists he is not a big risk-taker.

“New York City multifamily housing is the most stable asset class in the world,” he said, citing his lengthy experience with mid-rise towers. “No one pays attention until you do a tall one.”
Rendering showing many of the proposed superslims in the New York City skyline
Projects such as the 1,397-foot (425.7-meter) 432 Park and the Baccarat certainly want people to pay attention, though attention seems to be lavished mostly on interiors. The Baccarat sales office is paneled in burled walnut, rare forms of granite and other stone, and of course, crystal fixtures and glassware.

A visit to CIM Group and Macklowe’s 432 Park’s marketing suite in the GM Building is a highly-orchestrated ballet, in which one moves past carefully chosen modern art pieces and photographs of interwar New York cityscapes and cultural icons of the period. Standing inside a full-scale mockup 10-by-10-foot window frame that characterizes the building’s look--and is meant to evoke the coffered ceiling of the Pantheon--affords an accurate approximation of the view from the tower rising just to the south.

Numerous other “moments” greet the visitor as he makes his way around the suite, including a bathroom with a 1,200-pound marble sink. Each of the 104 units will have one, and they are brought up in one piece. This makes sense when one considers that the combined value of the apartments is more than $2.7 billion.

The experience culminates in a four-minute marketing film that can only be seen in the marketing suite. The film was made by DBOX, an Emmy-award-winning firm that also designed the marketing suite space. Tightrope walker Philippe Petit is the film’s mascot and silent narrator, and the film is stuffed from end-to-end with “classic” references – repeating many from the suite itself – from the Barcelona Pavilion, to the Empire State Building’s brief role as a dirigible dock, to the soundtrack of Mama Cass’ “Dream a Little Dream of Me.”

Lest the dream end too soon, prospective buyers are sent away with decidedly concrete reminders – a hardcover book of black-and-white photographs of the project under construction, and a 250-page fashion magazine.

The New York tall-building market has apparently bifurcated into two distinct trends – one in which the public realm has reasserted itself with new vigor, and another in which exclusivity rises to godlier heights than ever before. Time will tell whether the two morphologies remain separate, or grow together to become an as-yet unseen hybrid in Gotham.