Moneymaking Machines #1: 432 Park Avenue
432 PARK AVENUE has its detractors. A certain type of web forum frequenter finds it “boring” and seems to think these things are built to entertain them. True, there’s not much of an architectural statement other than stating it’s arrived, but this very absence annoys aesthetes who admire skylines as a Jane Austen character would a landscape.
“It is very true,” said Marianne, “that admiration of landscape scenery is become a mere jargon. Every body pretends to feel and tries to describe with the taste and elegance of him who first defined what picturesque beauty was. I detest jargon of every kind, and sometimes I have kept my feelings to myself, because I could find no language to describe them in but what was worn and hackneyed out of all sense and meaning.”
“I am convinced,” said Edward, “that you really feel all the delight in a fine prospect which you profess to feel. But, in return, your sister must allow me to feel no more than I profess. I like a fine prospect, but not on picturesque principles. I do not like crooked, twisted, blasted trees. I admire them much more if they are tall, straight, and flourishing. I do not like ruined, tattered cottages. I am not fond of nettles or thistles, or heath blossoms. I have more pleasure in a snug farm-house than a watch- tower—and a troop of tidy, happy villages please me better than the finest banditti in the world.”
Thanks Edward, for fighting the misfits’ corner. Back now in the present, still others feel that anything taller than the Empire State Building is unbecoming. It is true that 432 PARK AVENUE is prominent on the Manhattan skyline but it’s not going to be for long.
ONE 57 is already there, with its quiff and gradated glazing suggesting to residents (and onlookers) the direction in which they should (or would like to) be looking.
I can see how 432 PARK AVENUE appears superficially uninteresting and temporarily prominent but, like Edward, take pleasure in ordinary things done well. Most of what I like about 432 PARK AVENUE is related to its economics. I’ve always taken it as fact that buildings occur when the three elements of land, money, and a will to build are in place. Much of the time, the will to build comes from anticipated return on investment. With NYC’s recently more promiscuous attitude towards supertall buildings, there’s obviously a return to be had.
The 432 PARK AVENUE marketing site is a great site. It does what it does and it does it well. It gets straight to the point. Here’s the splash page.
This next graphic shows why the splash page offers Russian, Portuguese and Spanish languages. Including French is traditional. Chinese can’t be ignored. Hindi and Arabic speakers prefer local displays of wealth. Japanese speakers don’t spend.
Not that words matter anyway if you’re an ultra-high-net-worth individual with a net worth of at least US$30 million AFTER you’ve spent what you can on company shares, art, planes, fast cars and a few houses in welcoming countries around the world.
The thing I most like about 432 PARK AVENUE is how integrated all the things I like are. It’s not easy to isolate them, even for discussion, but here goes.
If height and the views that come from height are what’s being sold, then the marketing site leaves you in no doubt. The first page after the splash page offers a selection of views from various heights.
The implication, of course, is you get what you pay for.
Meanwhile, views from ONE 57 up the road are being marketed as on axis with Central Park, suggesting that a false definition of quality trumps a false definition of quantity.
The remainder of the website falls into place.
My only quibble is its mention of “Palladian proportions”.
Views attract windows and preferably big ones. Lots of ’em. The windows of 432 PARK AVENUE are 10 ft. square, implying Palladio found perfection in the number ten as well as squares. However, Palladio used the Vincentine foot which is 13.66 US inches. If our man Andrea had been called on to design 432 PARK AVENUE, he would have made the windows US 12’4″ x 12’4″.
2. The Free Plan
By this I mean free in the sense we understand Corby to have meant, not what he did. 432’s column-free sellable space is made possible by the small depth between the core and perimeter – a span of about 10m. In theory, the floors could be sold as open “loft” space but I doubt that high- or ultra-high-net-worth individuals could really be bothered. The generic plans do all the right things. Here’s the plan of the 91-96th floor penthouses – the 92nd floor one is still listed as available at US$82,500,000.
It doesn’t matter. It’s all arbitrary walls. Master bedroom with his and hers bath and dressing rooms. About ten toilets. A fab powder room. Some not particularly large bedrooms. A somewhat tiny kitchen and an unimpressive foyer. None of it matters. Apartments like this are designed around the wow moment when visitors are ushered into the living room. Here’s some SOM examples with furniture artfully arranged around pesky structure that complicates the apartment planning incredibly. SOM does the wow moment well.
With 432 PARK AVENUE, floors 77–84 have two unequally-sized apartments per floor.
Floors 62-73 are split into two roughly equally-sized apartments, with further variations lower down. It’s easy to imagine living in any of them.
Here’s a live link to what apartments are still unsold, with floor plans. The 28 and 29th floors are studio apartments that, as far as studio apartments go, are window rich. According to therealdeal.com
Developers CIM Group and Macklowe Properties have shoehorned 25 units with an average size of 472 square feet into the building’s lowest residential floors, on 28 and 29.
Here’s some plans. I particularly like the last one with its separate living and sleeping areas, defined kitchen and 200 sq.ft of glazing. Or the top left one with 300 sq.ft of glazing!
When it gets this small, it’s difficult to say “column-free” anymore. I can relate.
The challenge is to incorporate the significant columns into the layout and I’d say Viñoly’s team have done okay. Any studio apartment having more than one place in which to be is an excellent studio apartment.
It’s impossible to talk about height without noting 432 PARK AVENUE’s slenderness ratio of 15:1 – well outside the accepted limit of 11:1. It’s its slenderness, rather than its height that makes it so striking. We are unused to buildings looking like this. I mention slenderness after Free Plan because I first thought this slenderness ratio had been achieved by an increasing number of shear walls as one goes down the building. I assumed upper floors would be full-floor apartments, and that below them would be increasingly smaller apartments separated by an increasing number of shear walls affording lateral rigidity. It doesn’t seem so. It’s columns and core all the way up.
4. Structural Stability
I admire structural stability in a building. WSP are the engineers.
Engineered by WSP, the structure consists of an architecturally-exposed concrete tube system, coupled to a central core with concrete strength of more than 14,000 psi.
To control the perception of lateral motion under high wind conditions, a series of openings throughout the structure have been used to improve its aerodynamics, the design of which was achieved by means of wind-tunnel testing.
These are every 15 or so floors whereas if the location of mechanical floors had been determined by the mechanicals alone, there’d be a double-height mechanical floor every 20. Wherever there are these double mechanical floors, there are “outriggers” to tie the core to the columns.
The name implies they’re some sort of open triangulated truss – which they’d have to be to not impede airflow. They don’t seem to be in place yet.
Whatever they turn out to be, it seems they’ll will work to reduce sway and bring the building sufficiently in line so two tuned mass dampers can deal with the rest.
Page 39 of the structural analysis peer review report reveals the tuned mass dampers to be big tanks of water sloshing around on top. The amount of water is equivalent to (a whopping) 1% of the mass of the building whereas TAIPEI 101’s famous tuned mass pendulum is only 0.1%.
Although the core uses 14,000 psi high-strength concrete (which is getting towards the top end of the scale), the real work is done by the perimeter which is essentially a tube shell with windows punched through it.
|Imperial Strength||Metric Equivalent|
|2,000 psi||14 MPa|
|2.500 psi||18 MPa|
|3,000 psi||20 MPa|
|3,500 psi||25 MPa|
|4,000 psi||30 MPa|
|5,000 psi||35 MPa|
|6,000 psi||40 MPa|
|7,000 psi||50 MPa|
|8,000 psi||55 MPa|
|10,000 psi||70 MPa|
|12,000 psi||80 MPa|
|19,000 psi||130 MPa|
|36,000 psi||250 MPa|
The floors and outrigger structures link core and perimeter to create yet more rigidity but the peer analysis of the WSP engineering report says that only 12% of the resistance to the “overturning moment” is carried by the core. Nice work, guys.
4. Residential terraces
The section drawing contains the text “residential terrace beyond” wherever there is a mechanical level.
We don’t yet know where or how all the mechanical stuff will fit in but if these spaces have to be open to the air for reasons of air handling and wind loading, then why not give the residents a place to feel the wind on their faces and perhaps even have a cigarette if their ultra-high-net-worth partner won’t let them smoke in the apartment? Nice idea.
Symmetry is good – especially with structure. You never know which way the wind’s going to blow. But also, you never know which direction people might prefer to look. Sure, a majority will probably want to look at Central Park or show people they have a view of Central Park. Of course, for the people with the full-floor penthouses, direction of view doesn’t really matter. However, if you check the north point on the full-floor penthouse plans above, the living rooms face south east which probably means that direction lights up better at night when the proper entertaining and visiting is to be done. In the end, it’s a matter of personal preference. Some people like their bedrooms to face east, others any direction but. Me, I’ve always found there’s more of a sensation of height if there’s another tall building close by to look at or into. Another thing I’ve found is that being able to see a long distance only counts on days when it’s possible to see a long way and your windows are clean. This is unlikely to be a day you have visitors.
But treating all directions equally is a good thing. Marianne and Edward show us how people can find the same joy looking at different things. ONE57 assumes that all people must find interest in and see value in visually owning Central Park but that isn’t the case. Although apartment plans may dictate what gets viewed from what room, the shape and surface of 432 PARK AVENUE don’t infer any preference for any one direction over another. This is good.
Philip Johnson once said re. tall buildings that, “whatever you do, you get a plaid”. I think we’ve moved on. It’s not about mullion proportions now anymore than it is about load bearing walls. It’s about window openings, columns, slabs and core working as an integrated structure. Reducing the wind load means ridding the facade of decorative protuberances that increase it.
We can expect more refined iterations of this typology to be smoother still, with windows more flush. There’s still room for graphic posturing such as ONE 57 but now we have a structural case for the elimination of 3D ornament. Hurrah!
7. The Absence of a Conscious Facade
It’s no accident that the building elevations look like this, but although the above render looks like cladding, it is actually unadorned concrete. The window units fit into gaps between the structural members. Technically speaking, the entire outer wall is a shell
and the window units fit into openings punched into that shell.
It’s the elimination of an entire building element because it’s a functional redundancy. I suspect this is what Ludwig Hilberseimer was getting at with his Chicago Tribune project
although people could only see it in terms of a claimed aesthetic redundancy without realising they were the same thing.
8. Floor Plan Efficiency
Much art went into shrinking the size of the core of 432 PARK AVENUE. Only five elevators for a 92-storey building!
Skyscraper.org tells us that, because they have fewer apartments per floor, slender buildings have the advantage of requiring fewer elevators.
A compact core is desirable to the developer, because the core represents costs, while all the other floor area that the new owner will purchase represents revenue..
In order to create the most compact service core, the architects developed their own design for a prefabricated switchback scissor stair that utilised the minimal stair height clearances in the most minimised footprint. Working with the stair industry, a shallow steel-framed stair was designed with rated high-impact shaft wall enclosure that achieved the thinnest profile possible.
9. Vertical Efficiency
Despite its concern for the world of physical forces, 432 PARK AVENUE shows none of its regard for them. It rises resolutely vertical for 420 metres and then stops. It neither narrows nor tapers as it rises, and acknowledges neither gravity nor its own weight. Its shape and structure resist analogies to plants and spires and the metaphorical baggage of growth, faith and hope they carry. Rather than ‘reaching’, ‘climbing’, or ‘striving’ in Deco-gothic aspiration to greater heights, it simply towers.
Importantly, none of its space is wasted on vanity space or uninhabitable spires. CTBUH has had a bee in its bonnet about this topic. Perhaps a sense of proportion and a % breakdown in terms of gross floor area might be more informative.
Although, I’d respectfully suggest they quit championing tallness for tallness’ sake and stop producing diagrams like this.
10. Marketing Innovation
According to therealdeal.com
Developers CIM Group and Macklowe Properties have shoehorned 25 units with an average size of 472 square feet into the building’s lowest residential floors, on 28 and 29.
Here’s some plans. I particularly like the last one with its separate living and sleeping areas, defined kitchen and 200 sq.ft of glazing. I’ve lived in worse.
The units, meant to house staff for the owners of the apartments above, have seen the largest appreciation in asking prices for any individual units in the last year, information from the New York Attorney General’s Real Estate Finance Bureau shows.
And indeed it does. Apartment 28B (546 sq.ft; 50.7sqm) is now being marketed for 50% more than its original offering price a year ago whereas Apartment 39D at twice the size has appreciated in value by only half that. The price of the uppermost penthouse has risen only 15% $82.55 million to $95 million, in the two years since July 2012.
What does this mean? Does it mean that the rich want to give their staff the best accommodation possible? I don’t think so. It might just be a way of squeezing some value out of residential space without much of a view. I’ve always been intrigued by this apartment interior by Maya Lin. It was mentioned in on of those Architecture Now! books circa 1995.
The accompanying text said the owner bought it as a surprise present for his wife to use to rest when on shopping excursions into Manhattan. Much value has been added to this windowless space. The mountain of what I imagine to be travertine gravel is a nice way of saying you have floor space and dollars to waste. Genius! I also admire the photo of a view substituting for a real one. It’s a reminder that one’s in Manhattan but thankfully removed from the visual noise. Much more restful that way. A minus was converted into a plus.
Elsewhere, it’s often the case that gyms and other leisure facilities are on the less desirable lower levels. Other developments are offering lower-level office spaces to residents.
The studio apartments at 432 PARK AVENUE can be marketed in many ways.
Kirk Henckels, director of the high-end-focused Stribling Private Brokerage, said he expected buyers at 432 Park to purchase staff units for uses other than housing their employees.
After decades of promoting size and view, real estate brokers seem suddenly dumbfounded, as if they don’t really know how to market this exciting new real-estate product. Imagine that! A spare room with its own lease! It can be used as an office, boudoir, camera obscura or S-M dungeon. Some people with no shame might even want to buy them to live in! The possibilities are endless.
Whatever happens in these remote rooms, they’re hot property. Given the profits to be made, we can expect to see more of the same. Perhaps we’ll soon see full towers of 500 sq.ft studios for $1.5 mil with only a token full-floor penthouse at the top to supposedly add prestige when it’s really the loss-leader?
11. A New Building Typology
Structural efficiencies mean economic advantages. Viñoly’s outfit is planning something similar at 125 Greenwich Street. This time the engineers are DeSimone Consulting Engineers, PLLC.
It looks much like 432 PARK AVENUE. And so it should! At last we have a new building typology with known parameters that can be continually improved upon. It’s an opportunity to perfect something for once, to focus on making something better, and without getting distracted by the next diverting thing.
Much like 12th century Bologna.