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Gary Barnett Builds Giant Skyscrapers Because He Can

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Bloomberg Businessweek ran an excellent profile by Devin Leonard today of Extell Development president Gary Barnett, better known as the guy behind One57, the Nordstrom Tower, and a slew of other megatowers that are currently setting the tone for super-luxury residential development in New York City. Interestingly, though, for a guy who has dedicated his life to building insanely luxurious homes — and made truckloads of money doing it — Barnett seems to have little personal interest in the trappings of wealth. Leonard describes him showing up to a fancy party in "a boxy suit that looks as if he bought it off the rack." Later, it's revealed that "Barnett lives in a two-story house in middle-class Richmond Hill, Queens" with his second wife and their combined ten children.

Instead, Barnett is painted as something of a skyscraper-building savant, developing the biggest and priciest buildings in one of the world's most expensive cities simply because he can, sort of like the George Mallory of megatowers. He is described by a former boss as "a wizard with numbers" and by the CEO of a real estate advisory firm as a "Jedi Master" of negotiating complex air rights deals. While other developers might talk about their projects in the context of urban planning or aspire to transform whole neighborhoods, Barnett appears to have no such interest — his condo towers are spread haphazardly around Manhattan (though heavily concentrated on 57th Street, where he has been able to accumulate the most air rights) and unified only by their size and glassiness. Nor does he seem to have much of a concept of, or interest in, how his buildings integrate with their surroundings. Defending One57 from criticism that it's blocking out the sun in Central Park, he simply responds, "I think we defused [the controversy] a little bit. People realize it's not that big a deal." For Gary Barnett, it's all about constructing the tallest possible buildings and getting the most possible money from them. In essence, it's a game, and he's winning.
· Gary Barnett, Controversial Master of New York City Luxury Real Estate [Bloomberg Businessweek]
· Extell Development coverage [Curbed]