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How One57 Cleans 8,400 Windows, Got Its Marble, And More

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PBS's documentary show Super Skycrapers devoted an entire 55 minutes to nearly-complete One57, which the narrator calls the "Billionaire's Building" (over and over again). We parsed the entire thing in order to tell you the new news. The first chapter of the video is embedded above, while the next four segments are below. There are a lot of dramatic pans of the undeniably stunning views from way up there, but mostly the video dives into the intricacies of the construction process. (Like a meta, moving construction watch.)

Here's what you can learn: how a giant window-washing apparatus got hoisted to the top of the 1,000-foot tower last spring; how an Extell exec went to Carrara, Italy, to select slabs for the bathroom in person; how oversized lobby columns had to be heaved through a window and installed; how a small British woodworking workshop has churned out hundreds of bespoke kitchen cabinets; and how everyone, from Gary Barnett to brokers to construction workers, is pretty much in awe of the massive, vaunted superscraper. Warning, there are lots of lines like this—"It's going to be the most luxurious skyscraper ever built!"—but there's a lot to learn about the icon, too, and those who've gotten it to this height.

1) After over four years of construction, footage taken on April 2, 2013, takes viewers inside the construction site and the $90 million penthouse, when it's just bones and windows and concrete. That same day, the roof gets put on.

2) Let's talk windows. There are 8,400 total in the building, so they need to get cleaned somehow. So a company custom-made a 30-foot-long, 20-ton machine that'll have a "telescopic" retractable crane with a basket on its end that will house the cleaners and move up and down the building—but first it needs to be installed on the roof. As he's driving the equipment into Midtown, the project's overseer, who sports a thick New York accent, comments: "$50 million for an apartment and my windows are dirty? I'd definitely be upset."

Ten minutes into the first chapter, we learn that this is, according to the narration, "the Rolls Royce of window washers." We follow its ascent to the top, and hear the crane operator talk about the challenges of maneuvering a heavy object in 20- to 25-mph winds with millions of dollars worth of glass siding at risk. Says the project manager: "Every night, it's tough sleeping just with the thoughts of this piece going up and making everything safe for everybody." Aww. Tense! Cue the dramatic music, and a storm that rolls in and complicates things for everyone.

But then! There's a test run a few weeks later to check if it'll work. Everyone's nervous. Buttons are pressed; equipment hulks around. And then the "most sophisticated window-cleaning rig ever constructed" is ready to roll. The foreman's sweet commentary totally makes this part: "Every machine that we put out, somehow I always make my way back, and make sure the loving tender care that I put into it is continuing after I leave. They're basically my little kids!" He proudly says that the machine can be seen from anywhere in the city, and at first, "Nobody has a clue what it's for. This thing looks like a rocket launcher, ready to shoot out a missile!" Nope, just a very advanced cleaning system for 8,400 very expensive windows.

3) Now we're off to visit the little elves around the world who are building bits and pieces of One57. In April 2013, PBS follows Extell's senior VP of design Roy Kim as he flies off to Carrara, home of all ze marble, to "sign off on an order of marble worth tens of millions of dollars." For a year, the quarry stockpiled slabs that will eventually make up 94 bathrooms in the skyscraper. Kim has to see and approve every. single. piece. Because this marble was used in "ancient Rome" and Michaelangelo's 'David," "Gary Barnett wants it for the walls, floors, and tubs of One57," cost be damned. One giant hunk is $500K.

Kim goes on about the clarity of white marble and the thickness of its "famous gray veins," and then insists on seeing every piece and talking to the quarry owner. He spends hours of negotiating ("it's just basically pushing and pushing and pushing to try to get the best") before approving a shipment. One $130,000-plus slab makes two bathtubs and two benches. Says Kim to the camera, "I need a very strong drink."

Addendum: The marble arrives from Italy several months later, and there is a stressful moment when Kim cracks open the crate to inspect it. But wait: "It looks great. It looks fantastic. The veining is fantastic. It was worth all the pain and the effort to get it here." Whew! That was close. Gary would have been maaaad.

4) It's still April of last year, and the documentary rolls onto Wiltshire, England, where a charming chap who kind of looks like an adorable gnome explains how his staff hand-makes 135 kitchens with ebony veneers, 18 different layouts, and 3,500 cabinet doors total. Of Gary Barnett, the elfin bespoke furniture-maker says, "he wants them yesterday."

5) Meanwhile, there's the marble-filled lobby, into which several $100,000 steel architectural panels must go. Here's the rub: They are too large to fit through the door, so they have to be lifted and shimmied through a gap in the building's verrrry expensive glass curtain wall that's just three feet wide. A foreman notes that they weigh 3,200 pounds each, and while moving them, you act like it's a pound. "Everything is damageable, everything costs a lot of money, and there is nothing we can even scratch, nick, dent, or break," he tells the camera. "It has to be pristine." It's all done under the shadow of darkness as per the DOB's instructions, but at the end it's "$800K of polished steel, hung in a single night."

6) A 41st-floor model unit opens after scrambling to meet brokers' deadlines. There's a fun timelapse of a crew getting it all ready. And then electronic window shades rise dramatically to reveal Central Park views; the three-bedroom has a bar, media room, tons of priceless art on loan, floor-to-ceiling windows, marble from Italy, and cabinets from England. And it costs $19 million. Says one broker who comes to take a look on behalf of clients: "I've been waiting 18 months to get inside of this building." Another broker comment: "I'm not going to exaggerate, I think it's probably the best bath view in all of Manhattan."

7) And here's the cute way the piece ends. First, there's the foreman who jimmied in those ginormous lobby columns saying: "One day maybe I'll be able to afford to come over here, and have a dinner with my girl, and at least say, you know, 'I was part of this.'" Then the window-washing rig's mastermind, up on the roof with his big telescopic crane baby, looks out at the city and says: "They're paying a hundred million of dollars downstairs and I got a billion-dollar view here, and I don't have to pay for it. God only knows who's going to be living here." Ain't it the truth.
· The Billionaire Building [PBS]
· Super Skyscrapers [PBS]
· All One57 coverage [Curbed]