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New York's Megatower Boom Reduced To Mere 'Vertical Money'

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Even before most of them have risen, the 111 West 57th Streets and Nordstrom Towers of the city are already perceived as "massive erections" of unconscionable wealth, and so too have come to represent the polarity of New York City's wealth gap. The most recent author to take on the towers is Martin Filler, whose lengthy criticism of the Central Park South-centric buildings for The New York Review of Books reduces the incoming architectural feats to dollar signs. He writes, "If, as Goethe posited, architecture is frozen music, then these buildings are vertical money." Here now, the TL;DR version of Filler's article, as dissected through quotes.

1) "The two financial prototypes for today's ultra-luxury towers were David Childs and Mustafa Kemal Abadan's Time Warner Center...and Robert A.M. Stern's 15 Central Park West...These condominiums were specifically designed to attract an emergent class of plutocrats who might have difficulty buying into Manhattan's most exclusive cooperative apartment buildings, whose boards of directors, unaccountable to antidiscrimination laws, routinely blackballed Jews, blacks, gays, single women, show business performers, or anyone they considered less than respectable."

2) On buying a condo rather than facing a co-op board: "Thus the offspring of deposed African dictators are as welcome at condos as Social Register scions, and this ease of access has attracted shady characters who'd never get board approval at the toniest old guard citadels."

3) "The configuration [of 432 Park Avenue] was made possible by city regulations that waive upper-story "wedding cake" setback requirements—instituted in 1916 to prevent overbuilt Lower Manhattan streets from turning into lightless, airless canyons—but only if a building occupies no more than one quarter of its lot. Now that prices for Manhattan residences in prime locations have gone through the roof, it hardly seems wasteful to leave 75 percent of a plot empty on a $1 billion speculation like 432 Park."

4) "Among this new breed of towers, design elements not directly tied to profit are often downgraded or eliminated as overall costs climb. For example, Portzamparc poetically predicted that the rippling glass exterior he initially planned for One57 would evoke a cascading waterfall [Editor's note: or a persistent sidewalk-breaching waterfall of glass]. As executed, however, the flat surface of the building's variously blue, gray, and silver panes fades into a pixelated blur even from a short distance. With today's mathematically generated super-spires, it's best to paraphrase Mae West: 'Architecture has nothing to do with it.'"

5) The stratospheric amounts now at stake in newly built Manhattan buildings perhaps can be best understood by comparison with today's contemporary art market, where multimillion-dollar paintings and sculptures have become favored instruments in the global transfer of vast and largely unregulated sums...However, much as the new super-tall New York condos may serve that same general purpose, these are no works of art. If, as Goethe posited, architecture is frozen music, then these buildings are vertical money."

6) "In tandem with all this high-priced development, New York City housing since the turn of the millennium has become far less affordable...Last year the median price paid for dwellings in the city rose to a new high of $1.31 million, with more than seven thousand residences valued at $5 million or more."

7) "[W]hile homelessness nationwide has declined by about one third since 2010, it has risen by 21.5 percent in the city during the same period. None of these demographic shifts is accidental."

8) "Today's race to erect ever-higher, ever-more-luxurious Manhattan condominiums recalls the early-twentieth-century competition to win New York City bragging rights for the world's tallest building, as one record-breaking tower after another rose in dizzying succession. Yet not one of New York's postmillennial claimants to that lineage possesses an iota of the aesthetic élan that distinguished those early skyscrapers, internationally renowned as America's signal contribution to modern architectural form."

9) "Those of us who believe that architecture invariably (and often unintentionally) embodies the values of the society that creates it will look upon these etiolated oddities less with wonder over their cunning mechanics than with revulsion over the larger, darker machinations they more accurately represent."
· Conspicuous Construction [The New York Review of Books]
· Manhattan High Rise Boom Reduced to 'Massive Erections' [Curbed]
· Imagine Midtown Manhattan's Many Towers-To-Be, Come 2018 [Curbed]

432 Park Avenue

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157 West 57th St.

157 West 57th Street, New York, New York 10019