A look at two buildings that always make readers ask: Why is this on TreeHugger?

from park
via Curbed

I was surprised to see among Guardian critic Oliver Wainwright's top 10 buildings of 2016 the New York tower at 432 Park Avenue, New York, by Rafael Viñoly. He describes it:

An impossibly thin beanpole sprouting at the foot of Central Park, 432 Park Avenue is the most elegant example of the new generation of super-skinny pencil towers currently rising across Manhattan.

Wallis, Duchess of Windsor, among other talents displayed on Netflix's "The Crown," also famously said “You can never be too rich or too thin.” She was wrong; whenever I am in New York City I cannot take my eyes off 432 Park because it is so thin, so rich and so emblematic of so much that is wrong about society today- that the ultra-rich can buy these incredibly expensive safety deposit boxes in the sky that serve nobody, that barely even pay property taxes to the city, and do little other than cast shadows over the best public space in town, Central Park. It is the poster child for my argument that It's time to dump the tired argument that density and height are green and sustainable.

Up closeIt's crowded in among the little guys and not even really on Park Avenue/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

Writing in Common Edge, Martin Pederson complains about it too:

It’s not so much an ugly building, as a confounding one. At 96 stories and 1,396 feet, planted on a tiny plot of Manhattan schist, it visually reads like a cross between an optical illusion and a practical joke: the same damn floor plate seemingly repeated ad infinitum. This is the first very tall building I’ve seen whose height somehow makes it feel smaller and somewhat inert, like a clunky, unsharpened pencil.

He acknowledges that every building in New York was designed to make a buck, but at least most of them gave something back- “They were built as part of the community. Your dentist had a ground-floor office in one of these magnificent structures. So did your shrink.” But not 432 Park Avenue.

Wainwright notes that it is “a species of building made possible by the acquisition of neighbours’ air rights.” Pederson goes further and calls it a legal rather than architectural construction:

Four thirty-two Park was only nominally designed by architects. It was shaped and stretched by diabolically clever real estate lawyers, whose aesthetic sense here appears to be a pile of legal briefs, stacked to the sky. I try to turn away from it, but can’t and instead keep running, circling, until it’s safely behind me.

Oliver Wainwright is a terrific critic but this building is out of place on his list. The others are museums, social housing, student housing, symphony halls, buildings that serve a purpose that is greater than parking money.

full floor apartment432 Park Avenue /Promo image

I do drone on about this building, complaining:

The floor plate is a perfect 93 foot square, often with a single family occupying a full floor. Let's stop this fantasy that building density and height are by their nature green; This stuff is some of the least dense housing that has ever been built in the city, inefficient tiny floor plates with single family floor plans costing tens of millions of dollars.

Although right now, I can get it for you wholesale; according to Bloomberg, NYC's Tallest Luxury Tower Is Discounting Condos by Millions.

Wainwright concludes that 432 Park has a “the graphic simplicity of a gigantic Sol LeWitt sculpture, making it hard to believe it comes from the same hand as London’s bloated Walkie Talkie.”

view from the south side of ThamesView from the South Bank of the Thames/ Lloyd Alter/CC BY 2.0

I also find it hard to believe that the two buildings in the world that I dislike the most both came from the same hands. Rafael Viñoly’s 20 Fenchurch Street in London has been the subject of more posts on TreeHugger than any other building. Readers have asked why I am so obsessed and I wrote:

So why is this on TreeHugger? Because we keep talking about the importance of cities, and how we have to make them better, and that a good pedestrian experience is critical. This building alternately fries the public, blows them off their feet and cheats them out of promised public amenities. And did I mention it's bloated, top-heavy and just plain ugly.

view from upper levelLloyd Alter/ looking down/CC BY 2.0

I even ate a fancy breakfast there to give readers a tour of its so-called public space. The things I do for art and architecture.

Tags: Architecture | New York City

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