Look up! Do you like what you see?
New Yorkers have a love-hate relationship with our tallest skyscrapers. We mostly give our hearts to grand dames such as the Empire State, Chrysler and Woolworth buildings. But they weren’t universally embraced at first.
Even the Chrysler Building, the shimmering queen of our night sky, received mixed reviews when it debuted in 1929. The Twin Towers were widely detested when they rose in the early 1970s, but were sentimentalized over time as optimistic, “thumbs’-up” symbols of Lower Manhattan. Their destruction on 9/11 cemented their iconic legacy.
But what about today’s new crop of supertalls? An astounding dozen-odd, 1,000-footers have popped up in the past few years across Manhattan. Two rich, highly readable new books tap into our fascination with the jumbos — Katherine Clarke’s Billionaires’ Row and Eric P. Nash and photographer Bruce Katz’s Sky-High.
Clarke, a real estate reporter at The Wall Street Journal (which, like the Post, is owned by NewsCorp) colorfully relates the human, financial and political dramas behind the creation of super-luxury apartment edifices. Nash – a former New York Times scribe – brings an architectural critic’s eye to the aesthetic qualities of both commercial and residential properties.
There are two kinds of supertalls. The office towers provide homes for great companies with tens of thousands of employees. Their residential counterparts tell a darker story — with skeletal, pencil-thin shafts throwing long shadows on Central Park, spoiling the view of Midtown from the north. They’re often empty, serving as toys or piggy banks for absentee scoundrels such as Nigerian oil magnate Kola Aluko. Nearly a decade ago, Alujo bought a $51 million penthouse at One57 which he used to conceal ill-gotten gains from courts here and in his home country.
Here’s my take on how a half-dozen of the most prominent super-talls look, feel and function right now. We’ll leave jargon-filled architectural evaluations to learned experts and rate them from the viewpoint of a New Yorker who enjoys little more than looking up to the sky.
The 1,401 feet-tall office tower immediately west of Grand Central Terminal is the supertall superstar.
A skyline jewel. It can’t equal the beauty of the shorter Chrysler Building. But the design by architects Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) — four “interlocking and tapering volumes” rising to a 1,301- foot tall high roof and punctuated by a 100-foot-tall, conical spire — gives One Vanderbilt a unique profile whether viewed from the Central Park Reservoir or the FDR Drive. At night, 1,022 LED fixtures bathe the crown — and the whole building — in alternating blue and white.
Who’s inside? A constellation of financial and legal power — TD Bank, TD Securities, Carlyle Group, Stone Ridge Partners and Greenberg Traurig among others.
Public pleasures: A landscaped plaza at the foot of Vanderbilt Avenue is a welcoming oasis between the tower and Grand Central. There’s top-to-bottom fun, from the Summit observation deck with enclosed and open-air viewing platforms 1,100 feet above the street to jewel-box omakase spot Joji deep underground. Daniel Boulud’s second-floor Le Pavillon is one of the city’s top restaurants.
Fun fact: It took developer SL Green two years to buy out a pair of Irish bars, Annie Moore and Patrick Conway’s, that stood in the way of the project.
Dark side: The New York Times, which never met a tall building it liked, complained that its power-generating turbines are “out of date” because their use of natural gas is “falling out of favor.”
THREE WORLD TRADE CENTER
A 1,079 feet tower that’s great for office tenants but bupkis for the rest of us.
A Flop at the Top. Its flat roof was to have a pair of prominent masts to give it a skyline identity. But architect Richard Rogers yanked them because they’d “conflict” with the top of next-door Two World Trade Center — which hasn’t even been built. More likely they just chopped them off to save a few bucks.
A public zero. The “podium”-level lower floors, which are owned not by developer Larry Silverstein but by mall operator Westfield, remain dark five years after the tower opened. The massive, empty base looms over Church Street as another vacant void on the way to the Memorial.
Who’s inside? Silverstein lured first-class office tenants including GroupM, McKinsey & Co., Uber, and most recently law firm Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer.
Dark side: Boring top, empty bottom,
Fun fact: Silverstein keeps a private exhibition space on the top floor that highlights the site’s dramatic development saga and his real estate empire’s history.
CENTRAL PARK TOWER, 225 W. 57th Street
The 1,550-foot high roof makes this super-luxury condo tower designed by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture the tallest residential building in the Western hemisphere. The roof is higher than that of One World Trade Center by nearly 200 feet.
A skyline ghost. The nicely detailed, aluminum-and-glass facade fades into the background despite its great height. The rigidly rectilinear curtain wall could belong to an office building or a hotel.
Who’s inside? Who knows? According to Clarke, one owner is Nicola Mendelsohn, vice-president of Meta’s global business group. But the rest are shielded by limited-liability corporations, some of whom bought at reported discounts. One asking price hasn’t dropped yet: an aspirational $250 million for a triplex penthouse at the top, the priciest “ask” in the US, according to Zillow.
Shopper’s paradise: Central Park Tower’s redeeming feature is the seven-story Nordstrom department store that’s fronted by a handsome, undulating glass facade over 57th Street.
Dark side: Let’s hope that Nordstrom doesn’t suffer the same fate as shuttered Lord & Taylor, Barneys and short-lived Neiman Marcus — which would cost the tower what charm it has.
Fun fact: Harry Macklowe earlier wanted Nordstrom to be part of his 432 Park Avenue but the deal fell through. The store subsequently paid Extell $103 million to buy the Central Park Tower space, which helped Barnett get the building off the ground.
ONE WORLD TRADE CENTER
The “iconic” cloudbuster is an instant landmark after years of delay, battles over its design and a power struggle that saw the Port Authority and the Durst Organization take control from Larry Silverstein.
A skyline-saver: It’s a miracle the colossus got built at all. Some politicians and developers feared its three million square feet would “glut” the market. Donald Trump helpfully called it “terror target No. 1 with a bull’s-eye around its neck.”
But architect David Childs brought forth the best tapered, octagonal form he could despite the attacks and constraints. His original design for a more sculptural, 407-foot tall antenna spire, which brings the overall height to a symbolic 1,776 feet, was dumbed down to a less dramatic look. But nighttime beacons in ever-changing colors bring joy to the Lower Manhattan sky.
Who’s inside? The tower is nearly 100 percent leased. The most glamorous tenant is media giant Conde Nast, credited with reversing downtown’s fading fortunes when it signed a lease in 2011.
Dark side: The 100th-floor One World Observatory has no outdoor space. The One Dine restaurant is overpriced, mediocre and a blight on the memory of Windows on the World.
Fun fact: The Port Authority mercifully threw out the tacky original “Freedom Tower” name in 2009 although some still call it that.
432 PARK AVENUE.
Harry Macklowe’s unique, all-concrete, perfectly square condo tower with 1,850 (count ‘em, 1,850) square, ten-by-ten-foot windows is the city’s most polarizing skyscraper.
Topless wonder: Who needs a crown when the body is so captivating? Some of us find architect Rafael Vinoly’s 1,397-foot-tall slab a refreshing thumb-in-the-eye to Manhattan’s same-old. It’s fun to spot it from a descending jetiner — or just about anywhere. Five two-story “windbreaks” — i.e., empty, open floors — designed to reduce the tower’s wind exposure emit an eerie orange glow after dark. But critic Justin Davidson called it “an unrelenting concrete grid of ten-by-ten-foot openings like so many stacked cubbyhole units.”
Who’s inside? Except for Altice USA mogul Yossi Benchetrit, who paid $70 million for an 82nd floor pad in 2022, it’s easier to name early purchasers who moved out, such as A-Rod and Jennifer Lopez. The exodus followed a torrent of alleged construction defects — like floods, faulty elevators, an electrical explosion, and “sound and vibration issues” that made it “difficult to sleep during periods of even moderately inclement weather.” In 2021, the building’s condo board sued Macklowe for damages; the case is pending.
What’s in it for us? The project’s low-rise portions include a new home for Phillips auction house and beautiful East 57th Street storefronts — which alas are only half-rented.
Dark side: My visit to an unfinished, top-floor pad found the giant windows scary — how can you shade 100 square feet each? — and the vista bleak in bad weather.
Fun fact: Michelin-starred chef Shaun Hergatt runs a luxurious restaurant on the 12th floor that’s sadly for residents only.
53 WEST 53RD STREET
Another argument-starter, architect Jean Nouvel’s superluxury-condo edifice priced for the oligarch crowd thrusts like a dagger into the East Midtown sky.
Hard to miss: The upward-thrusting pinnacle, comprised of several sharp-edged triangles, makes an audaciously muscular sky statement amidst flat-roofed, International-style neighbors. Sky-High author Eric P. Nash praised its “giant exterior braces in crazy-quilt patterns” as “unobtrusive to the street line, respectfully contextual and tectonically innovative.”
Who’s inside? More mysterious zillionaires listed as LLCs.
Room to spread: Three floors of expansion space for next-door MoMA give the museum fresh elbow room for the newish David Geffen Wing. Pan-Asian, three-level restaurant 53 on the tower’s ground floor expands waistlines.
Dark side: Those cool triangular beams that look great from outside obscure prime views from inside.
Fun fact: Like some of the others, 53 West 53rd plays fast and loose with floor numbers. Floors 1-6 are accurately labeled except that there’s no third floor. The seventh physical floor is called floor 12; 8-34 are called 14-40; and 35-77 are 45-87.
AND DON’T FORGET
30 Hudson Yards boasts Peak, a top-floor restaurant with food that lives up to the view, and the heart-stopping, triangular outdoor observation deck Edge.
ONE57’s five-star Park Hyatt Hotel comes with a public-friendly, “Living Room” bar and restaurant — a welcome amenity in a tower that most of us will never find reason to enter.