Honestly, isn’t this building giving New Yorkers the finger?

UPDATE: When I first published this quick post in September 2014, for some reason it attracted comments from young architects who not only wanted to defend the building, but who saw my comments as ridiculous. In retrospect, it’s obvious that most New Yorkers, many non New Yorkers, and many architects agreed with me. Some support for that is listed at the end of the post. This month’s Architectural Record on Architecture & Money: The New Gilded Age produces more agreement, particularly in Michael Sorkin’s Too Rich, Too Skinny.

432 Park Ave

THIS IS Robber Baron 2014 Style: Conspicuous Consumption literally taken to unprecedented heights. You can see it many miles away in Queens, the Bronx, and even Brooklyn, which means millions of New Yorkers have to look at it’s graceless form every day. You get some idea of the problem here (and to a lesser degree here).

And for what? One-hundred and twenty-five apartments on 89 floors (a number that will probably go down as Russian billionaires buy multiple units to combine into large pied-a-terres on the highest floors). Most of the occupants won’t live in the building (What New Yorker would want to live completely surrounded by undistinguished midtown office towers?) and they won’t pay much in the way of local taxes, but their empty nests (called “bullion pots in the sky” in London) will forever disfigure the skyline and steal sunlight as far away as Central Park.

In New York’s first Gilded Age, the Robber Barons built towers and civic landmarks that graced the skyline and made better streets. Most of the tall buildings were corporate office towers, like the Woolworth and the Chrysler buildings, and there were a few like the wonderful New York Municipal Building by McKim, Mead & White. The Woolworth, Chrysler, and Municipal buildings contributed to one of the great skylines of the world and at the same time made streets they stood on better. Most of the towers, institutional buildings, streets, and neighborhoods that give New York its physical character come from that time.

Today’s plutocrats are the modern-day Rockefellers, Fricks, and Morgans. But unlike those men, who both took from the city and gave to it, the international 1% parking their money here today take far more than they give. They’re also helping to chase the middle class out of the city.

Last but not least, this building—the tallest building in New York*—is somehow “as of right.” Before the Bloomberg Administration waved its magic wand over air rights, the building would have been illegal. And in more reasonable times, when developers built much lower “sliver buildings,” the Giuliani administration made those illegal. We understand that Mayor de Blasio doesn’t want to offend the controllers of the largest SuperPAC in New York (the Real Estate Board of New York), but this is a part of the Tale of Two Cities that led so many of us to vote for de Blasio.

432 Park Avenue
* The antenna at the Freedom Tower makes it “taller” than 432 Park Avenue, but the top floor at the Freedom Tower is lower than the highest floor at 432 Park Avenue. As far as I know, this is the first time in the 390-year history of New York that our tallest building has been residential.

PS: Here is the building that was torn down for 432 Park. As an urban building, a building that contributes to the street and the “space between the buildings” where public life takes place, it is infinitely superior. Big development, just like Big Finance, Big Pharma, and Big Agriculture, is diminishing our future for the short term gain of the richest of the rich.

drakePPS: In The Happy City, Charles Montgomery shows that the people who live very far from the ground are less happy than those in the lower floors of the same buildings, where they are more in touch with their fellow human beings. We are social beings. We might want to visit the clouds now and then, but many of us are not happy living there.

PPPS: Duo Dickinson agrees (succinctly): http://savedbydesign.wordpress.com/2014/11/03/irony/

PPPPS: “Gotham’s fickle finger of real estate wealth signaling the next Gilded Age? A giant upraised baton cuing us all to a symphony of conspicuous consumption…?” Francis X. Clines. The New York Times, Jan. 1, 2015

PPPPPS: “Stream of Foreign Wealth Flows to Elite New York Real Estate,” Louise Story and Stephanie Saul, The New York Times, February 7, 2015. Investigative reporting of the type that only a great paper can do.

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33 Responses to Honestly, isn’t this building giving New Yorkers the finger?

  1. joe dee says:

    Please run for Mayor!!!

  2. I hate to be "that guy," but... says:

    No it is not. The WTC, both old and new, are architectural travesties and this is an aesthetically far superior “tallest” for this great city. Didn’t know this was a leftist blog too until I read the part about the Drake. I dare you to go live in a “humanist” city like, oh, say, Pyongyang, North Korea, and then report back on whether you still prefer that environment to New York’s.

    • joeylesbo116 —

      I’m not comparing the design of the WTC to the design of 432 Park. But what part of the design of 432 Park do you consider good? It is simultaneously overwhelming and monotonous on the street, the top has no visual interest, and neither does the silhouette or the boring repetition of the shaft.

      I don’t use the word “humanist” in the post, so I’m not sure why you apply it here. Florence is usually the prime example of a humanist city. I have no idea what Pyongyang looks like or when it was built, but I’m pretty sure it doesn’t have much to do with the old Drake. Today, of course, Pyongyang is Communist, which is anti-humanist.

  3. DanDan says:

    Pretty much everything in this article is wrong. Just 100% incorrect “facts”, and silly ranting from an anti-development NIMBY.

    • DanDan —

      Could you give a few specifics about what facts are wrong?

      • DanDan says:

        Everything. Your claim that today’s plutocrats are “takers”, and somehow different from yesterday’s plutocrats (as if the towers from the past were built out of goodwill rather than greed), your claim that this building will not contribute to streetlife (it actually has more retail space than the predecessor building), your claim that the zoning is Bloomberg’s fault (there was no zoning change at all in Midtown East since the 1980’s, and this building is as-of-right).

        Basically this entire essay is the architectural equivalent of an old man complaining about everything new and how the “good old days”, when buildings were supposedly built for reasons other than profit, were so much better.

        And, not that it particularly matters, but I’m a GSD grad, work in urban planning, and very much like this building.

        • Dan,

          I don’t think the problem is “plutocrats.” The specific problem I’m raising in this very short post is the buildings we are building for the global 1% to park money in New York. They deface the city, they overly privilege the rich, and they contribute to making New York “a luxury product” you have to pay for, as Mayor Bloomberg said. “Bullion pots in the sky,” as London’s Mayor calls them, they play a role in the fact that the other 90%, and even the rest of the 10%, have a harder and harder time living here. Cities need diversity, and cities need to be a place that support the making of art, not just its consumption.

          This is hardly a controversial opinion. Here are some variations:

          The Shard has slashed the face of London for ever
          Simon Jenkins
          http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jul/03/shard-slashed-the-face-of-london

          The Shard is the perfect metaphor for modern London
          Aditya Chakrabortty
          http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2012/jun/25/shard-metaphor-for-modern-london

          London’s Housing Boom
          http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/28/opinion/londons-housing-boom.html

          A $90 Million Condo Flip Shows What’s Wrong With Financial Capitalism
          http://www.nytimes.com/2014/10/28/upshot/a-90-million-condo-flip-shows-whats-wrong-with-financial-capitalism.html

          What I admit to not understanding is why so many architects who think of themselves as progressive support this.

          Today we have the world’s 1% focusing on “World Cities.” One hundred years ago, the nation’s rich flocked to New York. But that was a much smaller group, and the city also supported a large middle class, as well as the Bohemian capital of America, Greenwich Village. Of course there were many problems, including the plight of the poor. But a time that had many parallels to today also spawned the Progressive Era, and led to the first income tax. To be clear, one hundred years ago was not better. We need our own reforms, including campaign finance reform, tax reform, and more attention to climate change. Many believe that if we get the first—finance reform—the other two will follow.

  4. joe dee says:

    Youse guys are nuts.

  5. Andrew says:

    Do you know where the city generates most of its revenue? Property Taxes. Everyone who buys property in NYC will pay property taxes, so I don’t get what the big gripe with this building is. If anything, paying property taxes, yet not using any of the city services or infrastructure would be plus to the city. The problem with ghost buildings only occurs when you have too many of them, and we are nowhere near that point.

    • I didn’t describe tax revenue as the main problem. However,

      1. In 2013, New York City had $43.8 billion in tax revenue: 58% of that did NOT come from property taxes. In previous years it has been lower.
      2. Non-residents pay no income tax or business tax and contribute less to sales tax than full-time residents.
      3. New York City needs more tax revenues. A billion here, a billion there…

      In other words, the problem is more complex than “they pay property tax.” This is precisely why Mayor de Blasio is reportedly considering a graduated property tax for apartments over $5 million that are not primary residences.

      There are lots of other problems, too. For example, billionaire non-residents contribute almost nothing to the cultural life of the city, but they make real estate unaffordable for many artists, painters, musicians, writers, actors, and others who have contributed so much to the history of the city. On 57th Street, they even led to the destruction of a great bookstore and the century-old Steinway piano store that worked with the artists at Carnegie Hall.

      Nor are they like the immigrants in Queens and the Bronx, who contribute so much to the workforce in the city.

      • Andrew says:

        As your statistics point out, 42% of city revenue comes from property taxes. By far, the largest source of income for the city. In other words, property taxes generate almost half of all city revenue ALONE. These luxury condos will eventually contribute more tax revenue for the city then any missed sales tax, income tax, or what not from not having a few more permanent residents in Manhattan. Because thats exactly what Manhattan needs, more residents to jam already overcrowded streets and subways. Billionaires are not my favorite people, but they contribute a lot to the city coffers simply by owning property. Artists, painters, musicians, etc, are all nice and all but they are not the ones paying to keep this city running. The building are a result of the high real estate market, not the cause. Ten years ago, it would not have been feasible to build this tower, or the towers like it that will soon go up. There are bunch of factors contributing to the exploding real estate market, this building isn’t one of them. Don’t misjudge effect for cause.

        • grogofmagrog says:

          …and by inserting one or two “affordable units”, the majority of these new super lux buildings for billionaires have 20-30 year tax abatements.

  6. General Scarr says:

    No, not New Yorkers…this building is giving YOU the finger my friend.
    Forever.
    Enjoy!

  7. aaron says:

    Well, this blog is nothing more than whining about nothing. I know this seems crazy, but it’s New York. It’s a mecca for skyscrapers and tall buildings. I suggest you move to Tuscon so that you don’t have to worry about shadows and other scary things in a city with over 100 buildings that are at least 600ft tall…..

  8. V.O. says:

    John, your key arguments hinge around this tower’s aesthetics, as well as its impact on the city. Speaking of former, beauty is a matter of personal taste.

    “Honestly, isn’t this building giving New Yorkers the finger?”
    – No, it isn’t. The same can be said about any prominent structure that breaks the line of the horizon and does not appeal to your tastes, whether it’s the Empire State Building or your neighbor’s chimney. “It’s tall. It’s pointy. I think it’s ugly. It’s a middle finger to everyone, right guys?”

    You may call it “boring repetition of the shaft” while I would describe it asa “refined minimalist tower with unrestrained verticality and dignified sophistication without the clutter”. Neither of us would be objectively right. At the end of the day, some people like the aesthetics of an object, and others don’t. Both of us can attack or defend its looks based on historical references and comparative stylistic analysis, but it won’t change the fact that beauty is in the eye of the beholder.

    Your post becomes more problematic and misguided when you make sweeping generalizations about the tower’s effect on the city as a whole, without backing up any of your claims.

    “THIS IS Robber Baron 2014 Style: Conspicuous Consumption literally taken to unprecedented heights. You can see it many miles away in Queens, the Bronx, and even Brooklyn, which means millions of New Yorkers have to look at it’s graceless form every day.”
    – Why would you imagine that “millions of New Yorkers” consider it “graceless” rather than “graceful”? Not everyone agrees with your opinion, nor does everyone agree with mine. I would never have the audacity to claim millions of supporters in my hometown if my only “evidence” is a collection of disparaging forum posts. You may be right, you may be wrong, but face it – you do not know whether the majority of the city likes the building or not. It’s fine if you don’t like this building, but do not speak for the whole city if you cannot back up your words.

    “And for what? One-hundred and twenty-five apartments on 89 floors (a number that will probably go down as Russian billionaires buy multiple units to combine into large pied-a-terres on the highest floors).”
    – New York is a global city with a great number of high-profile persons with global influence. The taxes paid by wealthy foreigners and non-New Yorker Americans helps provide for the services used by New Yorkers every day. Since Peter Minuit bought Manhattan from Indians, New York was born, raised and nurtured via global commerce and transplants (I’m pretty sure Dutch traders and English colonizers are not Native Americans). Complaints about foreign investors in a city built in large part by the idea of foreign investment seem short-sighted at best. But then again, “John Massengale” sounds like a typical Lenape Indian name, so I would assume that your ancestors have lived in Manhattan for thousands of years, and thus you have a great claim for complaining about transplants and foreigners changing the island.

    “Most of the occupants won’t live in the building”
    – yep, this is probably true. But, so what? It stands in an area with a very high daytime population density, and it won’t make or break Midtown, the world’s largest office district that shares space with thousands of existing residences, if 89 extra apartments are all full or all empty at any given moment.

    “(What New Yorker would want to live completely surrounded by undistinguished midtown office towers?)”
    – Again, absolutely unfounded personal opinion. Of course, to many of us, Midtown might not be a preferable neighborhood, but you speak about this as if you’ve conducted a survey or something. Personally, I’d find that neighborhood too hectic for my preferences, but who cares about what I personally like when it comes to gauging historic trends and public opinion? Let’s look at more reliable figures. New Yorkers have lived in high-rise towers in Midtown side by side with office towers for almost a hundred years, since Ritz Tower (http://www.theritztower.com/) opened its doors in 1925. Times changed, so did architectural styles, but this tradition remained. Instead of opulent spires, modernist slabs like the Olympic Tower (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympic_Tower) shared space with modernist office towers nearby. This is 2014. A new decade, an evolving skyline, same principle of multi-use highrise districts. If you so desire, I would provide an exhaustive list of residential towers in Midtown Manhattan. You can even give me the street coordinates for what you constitute Midtown, and I would oblige. Now, can you provide any evidence as to why New Yorkers “don’t want to live completely surrounded by undistinguished midtown office towers”?

    “won’t pay much in the way of local taxes”
    – says who? These ultra-luxury buildings provide local job creation on a short-term basis for construction workers that are hired to build the towers and long-term basis as well for the staff that is hired to service these wealthy people. The construction of this building cost about $1.2 billion, with hundreds of millions of dollars in payments to local steelworkers, concrete crews, electricians, plumbers, local architects, accountants, lawyers, engineering consultants, etc. And all of that income is taxed as well. Besides, the building ‘s combined unit cost comes up to almost $3 billion (http://ny.curbed.com/archives/2013/05/20/floorplans_revealed_for_superscraper_432_park_avenue.php). Think of property taxes alone that will go into New York’s budget thanks to that. Given these facts, please explain how all this translates into “not paying much in the way of local taxes”. Perhaps you have figures or analysis that would convince me.

    “steal sunlight as far away as Central Park.”
    – You would have much better luck making this claim about other proposed skyscrapers in the vicinity, but 432 Park Avenue’s impact would not be as prominent. Consider the following shadow studies. 432 Park is the rectangle all the way to the right. Note how in the winter (http://static4.businessinsider.com/image/52bda7f36da811b040ce32f9-800-579/screen%20shot%202013-12-27%20at%2011.05.28%20am.png), its shadow will be minimal and will leave the park before noon. In the summer (http://static1.businessinsider.com/image/52bda7b76da8111d42ce32fc-800-577/screen%20shot%202013-12-27%20at%2011.05.13%20am.png), the building will cast no shadow over the park *at all* during most days. In either case, it’s evident that the bulk of current shadows is cast by buildings that have already existed for many years. Do they really make Central Park into an inhospitable dark abyss? I agree that it is best to avoid blocking large amounts of sunlight to parks if possible. However, you’ve picked the wrong building to lodge that complaint against.

    Gosh, that’s just my response to your first couple of paragraphs. The rest of your post is equally misguided, no offense. If you desire, I would continue my breakdown of your errors and misunderstandings at a later time. You have the strongest point in regards to Drake Hotel’s destruction. I agree, it was an amazing building that should have been landmarked and preserved. If you made a post strictly complaining about its destruction, I would be behind you 100%. However, your post opposes the new construction that went up in its place. It is a fair argument if you are saying that 432 Park is an unworthy replacement, but it comes off as if you think that the new building is ugly because the old building was pretty. What happened to judging buildings on their own merits rather than by comparison?

    I’m sorry if some of my arguments came off combative. I hope you take no offense.

  9. Interesting how much hostility this is provoking. It would be interesting to know too how many of the people who are upset did not go to architecture school (my guess is one or none).

    “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder” has been the mantra of architecture schools since World War II. But many recent studies show it’s not true. Walk a group of people around a city with maps in hand, ask them to chart which blocks they like and which they don’t, and you will find a public consensus. Of course there are individual preferences, but those also fall into patterns: to give one example, some like more formal, some like more picturesque. And then there’s the fact that most of us can acknowledge quality of different types. SOM’s Lever House and McKim, Mead & White’s Municipal Building are great designs, even if our own designs or personal favorites are not like either.

    VO, of course I don’t say, “It’s tall. It’s pointy. I think it’s ugly. It’s a middle finger to everyone, right guys?” There are many beautiful tall towers in Manhattan, and many of them are in fact more pointy than 432 Park: the pointy tops are part of what makes the Chrysler and Empire State Buildings more visually interesting than 432 Park. Minimalism and unvarying, mechanical repetition are boring when the building is 1,300 feet tall. We have enough information (like surveys taken for the East Midtown plan) to know that the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers agree.

    The issue is not Classical or traditional versus Modern. There are many beautiful Modern buildings in New York. But the very wide, very tall, monochrome glass boxes that look like they were wrapped in graph paper and then covered in shrink-wrap plastic are boring. As they get larger, the boring boxes get oppressive.

    Google things like “billionaire row” and “57th Street” and you will find articles and posts from all sorts of sources that also object to the economic side and what it is doing to a great city. Three-quarters of the city agrees with Occupy Wall Street and wishes Mayor de Blasio would do more about the Tale of Two Cities that was at the heart of his election. Take a look at this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nu1suQP1vC4 or this one: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-eohHwsplvY. These are not by architects and they have nothing to do with anti-Modernism.

    This is an architecture school disease. Universities with on-campus housing survey their students every year to see where they want to live, and we know that the buildings the architecture schools love and promote are almost always the least popular. Architecture students should ask themselves why their taste is not just dramatically different from their friends and fellow students but actually in opposition to them. The average person is neither anti-Classical or anti-Modern. What they crave are places that make them feel good. See Charles Montgomery’s The Happy City.

  10. BTW, SHoP takes similar forms over in Brooklyn and makes them interesting.

  11. V.O. says:

    John, thank you for your reply. Before I begin, let me say that I strongly disagree with many (not all) of your points, and that’s one of the reasons why I’m enjoying this discussion. Disagreeable viewpoints get me fired up and force me to do some serious critical thinking as well as deeper research on my subjects of interest. The world would be a boring place if we all just agree with one another, and shying away from polarizing opinions results in mental inbreeding with no new ideas coming in. Besides, sometimes I change my view about a thing or two in the process. I’m sorry if you feel personally insulted at any point. This is not my intention. I have looked through your website and admire many of your projects and ideas. I am a strong believer in human scaled design myself, am a [partial] admirer of New Urbanism, and your links to additional stuff (e.g. http://streets-book.com/home)… I’d actually be willing to do some promotion for that. It’s right up my alley. You come off as someone I’d enjoy having a drink with while getting into a heated discussion.

    Having said that…

    “Interesting how much hostility this is provoking.”
    – You posted a controversial and polarizing opinion piece. Voice an opinion – get ready for flak.

    “It would be interesting to know too how many of the people who are upset did not go to architecture school (my guess is one or none).”
    – What does this have to do with the subject at hand? Is architectural critique reserved only for enlightened elites, and mere mortals without this level of education must bow their heads in respect and keep silent? I’m sure that it’s not what you meant, but that’s what it sounds like to me. I’m sure that I’m mistaken and that you know better than saying something like that. If that is indeed what you meant, then it is downright offensive. Whether someone never went to school at all or is a professor emeritus that outranks everyone in the AIA, please judge their words on their own merit rather than on the speaker’s background.

    ” ‘Beauty is in the eye of the beholder’ has been the mantra of architecture schools since World War II.”
    – Right. In the past, architecture styles were much more regimented and linear in their development because the instructors taught their students about what is good and what is bad, same as the rest of society functioned: women were forced to conform to gender roles, minorities were told to sit at the back of the bus, some art was classified as “proper” while other was “improper”, etc. Mandatory conformity ruled the day. Thankfully, our postmodern world is defined by a plurality of ideas, accepting that different viewpoints, lifestyles and movements have their own merits, while the top-down structure where the elite tells everyone what to think, how to behave, and what to like is being increasingly discredited. Architecture also accepted this pluralist concept, recognizing that a variety of movements and approaches have their own merits rather than forcing their ideas of “good” and “bad” upon everyone whether they agree or not. I’m really not sure what you were driving at with that statement. What were you getting at? Again, how is architecture school relevant here?

    “But many recent studies show it’s not true.”
    “We have enough information (like surveys taken for the East Midtown plan) to know that the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers agree.”
    “Google things like “billionaire row” and “57th Street” and you will find articles and posts from all sorts of sources that also object to the economic side and what it is doing to a great city. Three-quarters of the city agrees with Occupy Wall Street”
    – Fact: apples are clearly better than oranges. Many recent studies show it’s true. We have enough information to know that the overwhelming majority of people agree. Google things like “apples” and “oranges” and you will find articles and posts from all sorts of sources that support my viewpoint, because I don’t feel like doing the legwork to support my own claims. Three-quarters of the world agrees with me.

    …see how misinformed and condescending you sound when you make a controversial claim and then not only refuse to support it, but also ask the other person to do all the busy work for you? Whenever you make a claim, the burden of proof is always on you. As of individual points (like the East Midtown Rezoning Plan and googling Billionaire’s Row), I’ll address them later. It’s your approach that I have an issue with. Note how in my previous wall of text, I have not asked you even a single time to look up anything I claimed to be a fact. It’s bad form, plain and simple. Either be ready to back your words up, or leave it ambiguous (allowing us to read it as opinion), or say nothing at all. Never say “These are facts and you should do the research to prove me right.” Saying “studies show” without showing actual studies is an insult to any reader’s intelligence.

    “Walk a group of people around a city with maps in hand, ask them to chart which blocks they like and which they don’t, and you will find a public consensus. Of course there are individual preferences, but those also fall into patterns: to give one example, some like more formal, some like more picturesque. And then there’s the fact that most of us can acknowledge quality of different types. SOM’s Lever House and McKim, Mead & White’s Municipal Building are great designs, even if are own designs or personal favorites are not like either.”
    – That is true to a limited extent. Like I said before, beauty is subjective, but I guess we both agree that there are things that the majority considers ugly, and things they consider good-looking. Most people would agree that this (http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/c/c8/Taj_Mahal_in_March_2004.jpg) is a better looking building than this (http://mw2.google.com/mw-panoramio/photos/medium/9760360.jpg), but even the latter might have fans: a large portion of urban enthusiasts admires urban grit, calling pristine surfaces “soulless” and “sterile”, while mass-produced slab housing of the type pictured above, known in urban enthusiast communities as “Commieblocks”, has its own fan clubs. Here’s one example (http://www.skyscrapercity.com/forumdisplay.php?f=477). In summary, while there is some consensus on aesthetics and neighborhood appeal, beauty is still subjective to personal, social and cultural standards. Protected historic districts and uniformly designed neighborhoods have their place in most cities, for all the right reasons, but on a greater scale, forcing one “elite” group’s standards of beauty upon everyone is not only unnatural, but also tends to backfire. When the Nazi Party declared which design styles are “good” and which are “bad”, they held an exhibit of “proper art” juxtaposed against a sideshow of “Degenerate Art” (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Degenerate_Art_Exhibition), where the Nazis placed any design work that, in their view, “insult German feeling, or destroy or confuse natural form or simply reveal an absence of adequate manual and artistic skill” (Spotts, Frederic (2002). Hitler and the Power of Aesthetics. The Overlook Press. p. 151). As over a million people showed up to see the exhibit in six weeks, it became clear that the “taste-makers” are often so caught up in their delusions of self-importance that they lose touch with what the public actually wants. You seem to refer to this trend as the “architecture school disease”, where you say that “studies show”… without actually showing any studies… well, you already know how I feel about weasel words like that. This whole “some argue” approach to supposed facts is so trite that it’s become a common butt of jokes (http://www.urbandictionary.com/define.php?term=Some%20Argue). An example from the link I provided: “Wikipedia entry: ‘Some argue that President Barack Obama was involved in the mass murder of over 12,000 kittens in February of 2004.’ Sensible person: ‘Care to list a source for me, buddy? Other than yourself, I mean.’ ”

    As of the comparison to the ESB and Chrysler, I agree that 432 Park’s flat “chimney stack” top pales in comparison with the whimsical, brick/stone/steel pinnacles of the Art Deco giants. However, just because those two have better looking crowns, it does not make 432 Park ugly in its own right, even if it’s an overall worse building in many people’s eyes.

    “Minimalism and unvarying, mechanical repetition are boring when the building is 1,300 feet tall.”
    – More opinion-based postulates. I don’t think we need to re-hash everyone’s favorite debate of Mies van der Rohe’s “Less is More” versus Robert Venturi’s “Less is a Bore”. At least here we are in agreement, since you say “The issue is not Classical or traditional versus Modern. There are many beautiful Modern buildings in New York.” There are both great and ugly examples of rectilinear Modernist facades, which you aptly described as “look like they were wrapped in graph paper and then covered in shrink-wrap plastic”. Let’s look no further than your Seagram Building example: while the tower is a timeless masterpiece, a number of stylistic imitators that were built nearby come off exactly as dull and atrocious as you described, usually failing because of cheap materials, bungled details, no respect for proportions, etc. Large size of many of these buildings can often be a problematic factor, as you described: oppressive, monotonous, and frequently deadening on the street level. Still, I’m at a loss as to why you listed it to support your critique of 432 Park. This structure is the very opposite of a squat and wide structure, isn’t it? This is a fact. Now the following is an opinion – my opinion: stretched to this fantastical combination of height and slenderness, an otherwise dull facade becomes just the right skin needed for this type of building: an elegant, clean, clutter-free pattern stretched towards the sky; at only 6 windows in width, it is too narrow to be dull to the point of slab-like oppression, no matter the height. I know that your opinion differs. I’m willing to agree to disagree, but you will not convince me that you are objectively right on this one. At least put more effort into your argument than “studies show”.

    You attempt to do the latter here:
    “We have enough information (like surveys taken for the East Midtown plan) to know that the overwhelming majority of New Yorkers agree.”
    Your attempt failed.

    Allow me to explain. I have been following the East Midtown rezoning saga since its inception, and I remember various arguments for and against its different elements. Since you kindly refused to provide any of the information that you mentioned (which should be plentiful and easy to find, right? You did say we have “enough” of it), I do not know whether you are referring to some wide-reaching survey where the majority has stated that “minimalism and unvarying, mechanical repetition are boring when the building is very tall”, as you claim. The studies that I am aware of state none of that. Even a basic Google search of “east midtown rezoning survey” does not show predominantly negative responses. However, let’s cherry-pick one example that gets at least close to supporting your opinion which you present as fact:

    http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20131017/midtown/majority-of-e-midtown-residents-businesses-oppose-rezoning-poll-says
    “http://www.dnainfo.com/new-york/20131017/midtown/majority-of-e-midtown-residents-businesses-oppose-rezoning-poll-says”

    “MIDTOWN — An informal online poll sent to East Midtown residents and businesses this summer revealed that a majority of respondents opposed the Bloomberg Administration’s plan to rezone 73 blocks around Grand Central Terminal. The poll showed that of the 108 residents and businesses who responded, 63 percent said they opposed the proposal, with just 28 percent supporting it. The poll, conducted in August by the East Midtown Partnership, asked, “What do you think of the city’s proposal to ‘upzone’ a large section of East Midtown (including parts of this district), allowing for some more modern, larger commercial buildings but also adding more people to the area and potentially straining mass transit and public spaces?” Of those in favor of the rezoning plan, only 7.4 percent said they strongly supported it.”

    Now, let’s see: does the study make it clear that the participants in the survey do not line the plan because of “large and modern” buildings, or because of “straining mass transit and public spaces” by adding more people, or because of other, unspecified reasons (e.g. generic Not-In-My-Backyard anti-development reaction, opposition to new local competitors, historic preservation, or just because it’s a half-baked masterplan with a number of problems)? No, it does not. And it definitely does not say that “the majority of respondents said that they do not want large buildings with Modernist facades”. You made a huge logical leap by filling in the gaps with baseless assumptions only to support your claim. If I was asked to take part in the survey at the time, I would have voted against it because it does not provide enough protection to existing pre-war structures on site. I have no issue with increased permissible size, given unparalleled mass transit capacity in the immediate vicinity. However, someone like you would hijack my “no” vote by saying “see? he voted against it, which means that he dislikes large and monotonous buildings”. Your argument where “East Midtown Rezoning surveys prove me right” falls absolutely flat, at least in the way you approached it.

    And *even if* the poll said exactly what you claimed it would, even its supporters agree that it is not some be-all, end-all fact:
    ” ‘Clearly, the survey shows a level of discontent or, if nothing else, skepticism,’ East Midtown Partnership president Rob Byrnes said. ‘The city needs to take it seriously.’ He emphasized that the East Midtown Partnership has not taken a position on the rezoning plan, and that the partnership’s poll, distributed via the organization’s website and newsletter, ‘was not scientific.’ ”

    “Google things like “billionaire row” and “57th Street” and you will find articles and posts from all sorts of sources that also object to the economic side and what it is doing to a great city.”
    – Incidentally, if you Google either of those, you would come upon some of my own work on documenting this trend, which I began before 432 Park Avenue even broke ground. Thus, the only factually correct part of your statement is that “you will find articles and posts from all sorts of sources”. Heck, you are talking to one of those sources right now. As for the other half – “sources that also object to the economic side and what it is doing to a great city” – well, yeah, some sources support this trend, some object against it (for a great variety of reasons), some have taken middle ground. I explained in my previous posts the economic benefits to the common New Yorker that these ultra-luxury towers provide. The least you could do is return the courtesy by outlining its supposed economic disadvantages, rather than saying “you google it for me”. Perhaps you are complaining about general economic inequality in the city? The growing gap between the rich and the poor? It appears as if you are saying that “rich people buying apartments in tall towers is bad for the city’s economy, and most sources agree with me”. Care to elaborate, or at least explain that I’m misreading your claim? You gave me nothing to work with.

    “Take a look at this https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Nu1suQP1vC4
    Thank you for the memories. I actually remember seeing the flyer for that NIMBY-fest, the one that introduces the video. I would not normally use such disparaging language for a community meeting of concerned citizens, but since those fellows refuse to take the subject seriously, I refuse to take them seriously as well. When I clicked on the link, I was hoping for an actual authority figure, but all I got is a is a comedy routine by a Jane Jacobs wannabe, with all of the fiery passion and love for New York, and none of the grace, manners, nor insight. Busting on the rich and making fun of overheard college kid conversations may get a laugh out of a like-minded crowd, but it does not make her an authority nor a factual source on urban design. One57 looks like a washing machine! Ha-ha-ha! Bloomberg is tall and Jewish, so he cannot be President! Ha-ha-ha! I would be offended by her claim that college campuses cannot possibly work in urban environments, but I do not get offended by those that I cannot take seriously. I understand the jokes, and thanks for providing an alternate viewpoint, but how does it support your view that tall towers for rich people are ruining the city? As I’ve said in my previous post, skyline-busting towers built for the 1% have been popping up across the city for almost a century, like the example I referred to. Ritz Tower was built for the ultra-rich and stood twice as tall as any other apartment tower on Earth, and it has stood on the same 57th Street and Park Ave intersection that 432 Park sits by since 1925, and it did not destroy New York as we know it, even though critics were describing it in similar terms to how they describe 432 Park today. In her book, “New York, New York,” [1993, Henry Holt and Company], Elizabeth Hawes wrote: “At forty-one stories, it was the first residential skyscraper in the city and the tallest such structure in the world. It looked like sheer verticality as it narrowed, like a telescope, up through its setbacks, to a tower in the clouds. It was a ‘sky-puncture,’ ‘a flare,’ the critics said, quite overcome, noting that ‘even the ‘professional’ New Yorker, who has ceased to [be] awed by the wonders of the present age, stops to view and contemplate the actual arrival of the home five hundred feet high.’ ” Of course, the “setback” bit does not apply to 432 Park, but at this point we are discussing public and critic attitudes towards super-tall residentials on 57th and across the city, rather than stylistic differences.

    “Universities with on-campus housing survey their students every year to see where they want to live, and we know that the buildings the architecture schools love and promote are almost always the least popular.”
    As I said before… let’s see some studies if you’re going to refer to them. I’ve lived in one of such universities that you’ve described, and I don’t remember any such attitudes or surveys with such results, but even if I did, my anecdotal experience does not count as some sort of “evidence” of a general trend.

    “The average person is neither anti-Classical or anti-Modern. What they crave are places that make them feel good. See Charles Montgomery’s The Happy City.”
    – I do not need a book to tell me that human beings would rather live in places that feel good rather than places that feel bad. The problem is that it’s debatable what’s objectively good and objectively bad, no matter how many urban prophets profess that they found the One Right Path while everyone else is a heretic. Still, thanks for the recommendation. I always look forward to expand my horizons on approaches to urban design and creating the best living spaces that we can. Of course, an open an honest debate between disagreeing parties (like the one you and I are involved in at the moment) is a step in the right direction.

    • V.O. — Are you saying you are not an architecture student or a recent graduate of an architecture school?

      • V.O. says:

        I am not confirming nor denying either of those things because I do not see how my personal education level pertains to whether 432 Park Ave is “giving New Yorkers the finger.” Of all the points I have presented for discussion, you chose to address educational background?

        Would your objective response to my remarks change whether I told you that I hold a Masters of Architecture degree from Carnegie Mellon, or if I am a high school dropout that has never been employed in my life?

        I would appreciate if you spent a moment addressing the contents of my message rather than dissecting my background.

        • Your educational level is not the point, which is that as a group, architecture students and recent architectural school graduates have distinctly different ideas towards architecture than most people.

          You seem to suggest at one point that I was judging architects to have more educated and worthwhile opinions. I was suggesting just the opposite—it’s an occupational hazard. Or more accurately, an educational hazard, because many architects become less ideological as they get further away from school. And as I’ve already said, this is not about age. As a group, architecture students have distinctly different ideas about architecture than their peers and friends. That is not praising their learning, but lamenting it. Architecture is a public art, but the academy makes in increasingly esoteric.

          My obviously subjective opinion, based on talking to a number of New Yorkers, is that perhaps as many as three-quarters of New Yorker feel that 432 Park is giving the city the finger. My small but diverse sample was actually unanimous in agreeing. And look at what uncontroversial Wall Street Journal columnist Ralph Gardner, Jr. wrote: “Here’s how out-sized 432 Park is: It makes One57, which previously appeared as if it was giving Central Park the finger, appear modest, even demure, by comparison.” (“When Size Really Matters,” http://www.ralphgardner.com/articles/column/) It’s mainly certain architectural types that don’t see the these invading towers as most of the world does.

          John Massengale AIA

  12. Jason says:

    I agree with you John – that building is very very average and no where near the quality of the one it replaced. Just looks very typical of the anonymous ‘anywhere’ high rise that are regrettably eroding city character and identity across the globe.

  13. Well done, well said, and I agree. The comments are fascinating. However, I am not surprised at the irrational and ranting hostility that your post has generated from the likes of the person posting as “V.O.”. There are a lot of vested interests in building these kind of over scaled towers. Those interests will push back hard at anyone who disagrees with their project of running amok in New York for their own selfish gains.

    However, I am glad people are discussing the issue of property taxes. If it is true that the city gets 42% of its revenue as property taxes (and we should also ask, what percentage of expenditures are on public sector wages and pension obligations?), we are facing a huge problem as a democratic society. City government in such a revenue situation cannot represent the interests of citizens, in any normal sense. Instead, it must feed its own hunger for revenue, a self-interest that superficially allies city government with that of “Big Real Estate” rather than “ordinary” residents. However, that alliance represents a sick cycle that is not sustainable. For example, if we keep building these towers, we will without question destroy what makes New York unique (which is not skyscrapers as the Ideologues of Big Real Estate would have it) and we will see a retreat from the city, and an eventual erosion of those tax revenues as the city becomes more and more unliveable. The solution is a more diversified tax base, a re-industrialization policy, and a larger project that would require reform of our corporate tax structure and the reining in very powerful interests. Take the case of Google. Are they paying their fair share of taxes? I think not. We can see that through the lens of the financing problem of a public good like Hudson River Park. Big Real Estate (like Durst) would like to create a special tax zone from Chambers to 59th street three blocks in (but exempting Google headquarters in Chelsea). All the residents in that “three blocks from the river” zone have been asked to pay a special tax to maintain that very expensive and overbuilt park, one that is by law a statewide public good. It was a project to treat the local residents as tax serfs, one that would have allowed Big Real Estate to overbuild all along the Hudson. The proposal was beaten back, (for the time being). But why was Google exempted from the proposed tax zone? Google has been famous (in the New York Times) for using the Double Dutch/Irish tax evasion scheme to prevent billions of dollars in profit from being repatriated to the United States – where it would be subject to government taxation. A tiny bit of taxes on those profits would easily finance Hudson River Park’s $250 million deficit. But those profits are not even part of the public discussion. Hence the City is forced to retreat to the nastier game of raising property taxes one way or another.

  14. Pingback: The Good Kind, and the Other Kind » There are two types of architecture—good architecture, and the other kind

  15. Pingback: The middle finger | Ben Bansal

  16. Deb says:

    Wow! What a harsh bunch commenting here.You are entitled to your opinion which I for one share. I’m not an architect or urban planner – just a regular person who appreciates historic and/or more traditional architecture and would much prefer coming to NYC to see the building that was torn down. That tower looks like something my son made in Minecraft.

  17. Neil says:

    I have admired many buildings from around the world. I am not an architect but 432 Park Avenue is a mistake on the NYC skyline with its uninteresting and bland exterior through to the missing windows on floors to deal with the wind on a building that is not designed to deal with its height and surrounding environment. Perhaps any architecture that provokes a reaction is still a good thing but this building saddens me.

  18. Omar says:

    Honestly…I’m not an architect, but I know many, most of which should be called “architects” (just because you are one doesnt mean you are the best or can convince people to accept you new age concepts..), anyway I find it pretty evident that this is arguably the ugliest skyscraper ever built…

  19. Ignatz says:

    I think this article is great. I have no idea how anyone with an ounce of taste can consider this anything but an eyesore. It looks like shit. 20 years from now, it will look like shit gone to seed.

  20. Tom says:

    Its terrible look aside, I’d hate to be inside during a strong wind storm. This is one of those rare but true cases where I’d actually have to be paid – a lot – to live in that building.

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