Super tall and super expensive

It must be galling for architects to labour for years over blueprints and plans, to conduct endless feasibility studies and conference calls, to watch and agonise as the hands of countless engineers and workers bring their creations into reality — only for a bystander to give their construction some witty nickname that lasts forever.

That’s how it must have felt for the designers at Foster and Partners when their building, officially known today as 30 St Mary Axe, was nicknamed the Gherkin. The architects of what was then called London Bridge Tower had a similar, though slightly less facetious nickname applied — the Shard.

So we can only imagine how Rafael Viñoly felt when numerous news outlets got hold of the story that a wastepaper bin, devised by the Austrian designer Josef Hoffman in 1905, had influenced the design of his newly built 432 Park Avenue in New York, the tallest residential building in the western hemisphere which topped out last year at 1,396 feet (426 metres). Would this minimalist concrete column that towers over midtown Manhattan face the indignity of the nickname, the trashcan?

Luckily, it seems the nickname has not yet stuck, which the developer, Macklowe Properties, will surely appreciate. Its aim in marketing this building is to stress nothing but luxury. So think of ten-foot-by-ten-foot windows that flood the residences with natural light and frame the unsurpassed views of Central Park, the Hudson and East Rivers and Atlantic Ocean. Think of the facilities, on a par with a five-star hotel: a private dining room, indoor swimming pool, billiards room and performance venue. Think of private elevator landings, windowed bathrooms with marble floors and walls, radiant heated floors, and the option to buy a climate- controlled wine cellar.

Luxury at its best

The 106 residences in the building have twelve-foot ceilings that scream extravagance in space-constrained Manhattan. The message is clear — this building wants to be the most luxurious and most expensive address in the city of New York.

The good news for the developer is that the prices of the residences, which vary from about $17 million (Dh62 million) to $95 million, have not deterred buyers. Richard Wallgren, executive vice-president of sales at Macklowe Properties, says more than 70 per cent of the units have been sold. Apart from wealthy New Yorkers, international buyers have also played a big role in the purchases.

It is a safe bet that buyers from the Gulf region have been among the clients, if not the most important clients of all. Earlier this year, it was reported that the Saudi Arabian retail magnate Fawaz Al Hokair was the buyer of the buildingfs most expensive residence, the $95 million six-bedroom penthouse at the top of the building, which is now New Yorkfs tallest residential apartment.

At 426 metres, the building is not the tallest in the city. That honour goes to One World Trade Center. Neither does it compare to what is the world'fs tallest building, Dubaifs own Burj Khalifa, which at 830 metres is not far from being twice the height of 423 Park Avenue. Nevertheless, the construction of any supertall building involves a host of technical challenges, especially given that it had to be done in the midst of busy Manhattan, and the completion represents a considerable feat of engineering.

Wallgren says consultants had to devise several unique ways to get it built. For instance, at every twelve floors there is a break of two open floors. gThis gap is used to contain mechanical equipment, but also to let wind circulate through the building, thus acting to counterbalance any sway,h he says.

New design trend

From an aesthetic standpoint, the building has had mixed reviews. Some have praised its minimalist appearance, its clean lines and its purity. As yet, it is the architect Vinolyfs only largescale residential project and, according to Macklowe Properties, it is a landmark that has genhanced our cityfs iconic skylineh. Others have claimed the  building looks bare and unfinished. Nevertheless, it has been hailed as an example of a new trend for apartment buildings that are more slender, taller and more expensive than in the past.

And as to its inspiration by a wastepaper basket? Although the debt  to Hoffmanfs ingenuity has been acknowledged, Wallgren of Macklowe Properties wants to qualify that claim a little. "The design of 432 Park Avenue was not based on a trashcan, however the Josef Hoffman grid that was used in many of his decorative items did serve as inspiration".

Source: George Mitton, Special to PW


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