The inspiration for this post came from Anthony Crusor, conceptual architect and friend. The social trend for a plutocratic inhabiting of new skyscrapers is indebted to Martin Filler’s New York: Conspicuous Construction (Filler, 2015). It’s a must read!
Along 57th Street there is a lot of building activity, some new glass towers and some indispensable commerce like Rizzoli Bookstore has been chased out (Barron, 2014, page A17); while some good institutions like the Art Students League remain. So there is an unsettling time there for some, especially for the entrenched middle class. This should always be remembered when enthusiasm for the new ensues. This rash of building brings to mind a Tower of Babel mindset, whence there is a bent to build taller and taller ever trying to reach deep into the heavens. I don’t think that there will be cause for the fracturing of society, as the Biblical legend goes (God caused the builders of the tower to “confuse their language”, so they wouldn’t understand each other), but it does give pause to enthuse over such lush newcomers as 432 Park Avenue. This tower reaching 96 floors is reportedly the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere (but there’s a 155-storey Nordstrom building (Clarke, 2014) just a block west of Carnegie Hall in the making). 432 Park, actually near 56th Street and Park, coming from the offices of architects Rafael Viñoly and Deborah Berke and the developer Harry Macklowe, is 96 stories (1,396 feet tall). Its prices are exorbitant (e.g. $96 million for the penthouse apartment). Its design is distinguished yet it recalls the fascism of Italian architecture in the 1930s–decadently wealthy select populous luxuriating in exquisite beauty while the average Joes struggle to pay their monthly rents. Plus, with all this building there’s a note of caution for the possible overcrowding below, on the street level. However, as Martin Filler conveys, there is a certain absence of tenants of these mega-high buildings which helps their pocketbooks. Owners shield their assets by paying cash for their properties.1
According to Deborah Berke, who is the interior architect of 432, the windows are exceptional: 10 feet by 10 feet per window. Scintillating effects occur as Raymond Lee of Viñoly Architects describes; because the windows have deep reveals on the interior it gives the impression of depth to the surface of the glass which is sealed to the concrete and metal walls. Its reveals give 3-dimensionality to the rhythm of the facade, due to the exterior surface having a glimmer of interior depth. Although the window is inoperable, the building still permits the flow of air into the apartments through the introduction of a grille just below the window. The grille is faced by hopper doors which, when opened, allow the full flow of air into the space behind. Through this reveal our eye is led to face onto spectacular external views.
And what about the rest of the run of 57th Street? 157 West, next door to Carnegie Hall, is by the French architect Christian de Portzamparc, while across the street is a 95-storey building, and the sliver building at 111 Westwill be by the relatively new established office, SHoP. It looks as though these newcomers have, or will have, inoperable windows, which Olive Freud of the nonprofit Committee for Environmentally Sound Development2 claims are abusive to the surroundings; too much energy is dispensed inside when there is no the passage of air into the building. The CFESD wants to void the zoning law that prohibits operable windows above the fortieth floor ("Petition to Amend Local Zoning Laws", n.d., Item #4). All of this flies in the face of passive construction where there is airtight building of materials, including triple-paned glass windows. According to a few followers, passive construction is the most environmentally wise method of all. If it does catch on, and it applies to tall buildings as well as the moderately high buildings it now serves3, there will be many fewer operable windows (Gregor, 2015, RE1).
The architectural design prize along 57th Street really belongs to the old, established Fuller Building on the northeast corner of 57th and Madison Avenue, erected in 19294 (and declared a landmark building in 1986) and designed by Walker & Gillette in the Art Deco style, although dramatically streamlined which makes it more precisely Art Moderne . The windows run in horizontal bands and are of the good old sash variety. This simple glass window type with two vertically sliding panels equipped to move up and down with the aid of a simple pulley, came late on the scene; introduced by the English or the Dutch in late 17th century (Curl, 1999, 736-37) it gained in popularity and became the most ubiquitous window type in New York, until now, that the sealed windows of curtain wall buildings, like 157 West, is sadly, competing for first place.
In New York, architecture with a sense of social purpose is becoming increasingly rareSteven Holl designed the Hunters Point Community Library that is discussed in our post Amorphous Windows of Steven Holl’s Queens Library