Moneymaking Machines #3: 625 W57th Street

We saw in Moneymaking Machines #1 how New York by Gehry for Forest City Ratner received the financing to make it possible in its present form only one month before the 2008 financial crisis. This window of opportunity would have closed if more time had been spent wrangling over rights of light and other issues.

w57-15The Durst Organization, the developer behind 625 West 57th Street made its planning application in 2010, when financing was still difficult and so had to resort to less conventional forms of financing – technically, to what’s known as the EB-5 visa program. Basically, investors who stump up $500,000 per family and create 10 jobs receive a green card.

durst Here’s a pdf brochure targeting potential investors. We don’t know how successful it was. It couldn’t have been sufficient for, in October, 2014, loan

“It was a complicated transaction and all parties cooperated to make something that was seemingly difficult relatively easy to get done,” said Jordan Barowitz, director of external affairs for Durst.

Here’s the link to the nyc scheme review online folder. The community impact analysis is based on an assumption of 863 units. Apartment floor plans are absent from designboomdezeen and ArchDaily. I found this plan here.

w57-9 It’s one of the lower floors and seems to be mainly 1-bedroom apartments although the regular pattern of walls leaves open the option of converting a one-bed into two studios, or three one-beds into two twos at the last minute if doing so has advantages and the approved total doesn’t change. That decision will be made after sufficient expressions of interest have been received. It’s as instant as accommodation demand and supply gets.

“We haven’t set the rents yet, but we think at the top of the building we can touch $90 a square foot,” he (aforementioned Jordan Barowitz) told MO [Mortgage Observer].

  • Another interesting thing about the plan is a corridor more than half a city block long.
  • The main elevator lobby is in the top right corner – as you’d expect if you wanted your elevators to go all the way to the top. The garbage chute must close by for the same reason.
  • The two long, truncated sides of the building complicate fire escape requiring four fire escape stairs on the W58th side and two more on the W57th side.
  • The single-loaded (lower) W57th wing of the building gets out of the way pretty quickly to add value to the profit-dense (upper) W58th wing. For the amount of accommodation the lower wing contains (15 x 1-bed or 30 x studios max?) the complications it causes and the value it subtracts in terms of view and shadow, I can’t believe it was worth building. Shape.

  • From this photo, the building is shading itself but not that much more than the building immediately south already is.

Notice the building immediately behind? It’s time now to talk about The Helena. The Helena is an apartment building by the same developer in the south-east corner of the development site. fab things like this

Most of The Helena’s apartments are studios but, if you check availability, here’s what $4,100 per month gets you.

The Helena is marketed as a green building – which is nice.

greenWhat’s more interesting is how the developers applied to have the entire block re-zoned so the entire block could be considered a single development. As far as I can work out from these documents, this meant that


  1. the new portion of the development could exploit any newly created development capacity as well as any development capacity unexploited by the existing buildings
  2. rights of light issues internal to the site could be ignored
  3. loss of view internal to the site could also be ignored

Nos. 2 and 3 “don’t matter” if the existing building’s tenants are renting from the same developer.

139532924.ZLgNkRut.p4 Nevertheless, this view won’t exist any more. Is that a Noguchi coffee table?

HELENA VIEW Not everyone was pleased.

  • The CB4 Clinton/Hell’s Kitchen Land Use and Zoning Committee of Manhattan Community Board 4 voted unanimously to recommend denial unless the project includes permanent affordable housing. (Noland)
  • “The City Planning Commission should not allow the project to proceed without a guarantee of permanent affordable housing. It would be short- sighted to affix an expiration date to the affordable housing component, forestalling an adverse socioeconomic impact of this development, but not mitigating it. We understand there are unique challenges to achieving permanent affordable housing on this site. But we cannot support a project that provides an indefinite benefit to a select few with exceptional wealth while offering only temporary benefits to the community.” (Duane/Nadler)
  • “The project should provide affordable units through the 80/20 Housing Program if the mini-storage facility is converted to include residential uses.” (Stringer)

“The applicant has agreed to enter into the 80/20 program and would provide 20 percent of the 835 residential rental units on projected development sites 1 and 2 (or up to 167 units) as affordable housing units for a period of 35 years.”

  • There should be more than 35 years of permanent affordability. (Restuccia)
  • My objection to the Durst pyramid is the fact that the affordable housing unit will be affordable only for 35 years. (Brender)
  • The community needs permanent affordability. A high concentration of affordable housing will expire in the next five to ten years. (Klein)
  • Community District 4 wants and needs permanently affordable housing. Without permanently affordable units, it cannot maintain its mixed-income residential character. (CB4)
  • One thing the community absolutely needs is permanent affordable housing. (Bloomberg)
“The project will be a welcome contribution to the city’s ongoing needs for mixed income housing. It represents an opportunity to add 750 units, approximately of which about a hundred fifty would be set aside for low income households for 35 years. It is a significant commitment that should not be taken lightly, since the site itself could remain under its existing zoning and be developed for nonresidential uses. This would be an unfortunate option, given the significant benefits of residential use at this location.” (Perine, Lamberg) “It’s far better to create housing that will be affordable for 30 or 35 years as opposed to building nothing at all.” (Lamberg) “The applicant also understands how important permanency is to the community, but is unable to offer permanent affordable housing on the project site, as the City’s inclusionary housing program requires permanent affordable housing units, and the applicant controls the site pursuant to a 99-year ground lease, of which 87 years are remaining. That ground lease requires that the site be returned to the fee owner at the end of the lease term, free of any leases or tenancies.”
  • “The lease requirements should be renegotiated with the landowner to allow for permanent affordable housing.” (Brewer, Noland, Restuccia)

“While the applicant recognizes the need for affordable housing in the community, it is not possible to renegotiate the lease.” 

G A M E   O V E R

Now that’s a done deal, let’s talk about The Shape.

Durst’s property is designed to take advantage of most of the available square footage permitted under a recent rezoning. It will fit within the envelope of the site and help preserve the views of another Durst family building next door, known as the Helena.  [New York Daily News]

Let’s deal with that first sentence first. 2010 Spring: BIGs website says they were commissioned 2010.  purple 2011 February: The project began to appear in the architectural internet. 

2012 July: A document outlining the scope of work of an Supplemental Environmental Impact Assessment is uploaded to the site.

743 iso


“Takes advantage of a recent rezoning” should read as “rezoning was applied for after the design was completed. The “recent rezoning” could refer to a 2001 rezoning but the 2012 rezoning was so recent it was in the future. read all about it! I think everyone is caught with their pants down here. Perhaps going back to the BIG site will give us some clues. Point block meets perimeter block, the story goes. really The previous setback limits didn’t change along the length of the site. Given that they were relaxed in order to accommodate this building, I can’t see what advantages a tetrahedrish building has over a long slab building directly in front of The Helena. It’s not a question of maximising the number of apartments because that’s already fixed at 853. site section A long slab building would:

  • Have more efficient access and shorter corridors that would, in turn make for more efficient servicing and simplified fire escape.
  • Be less vulnerable to possible future development on the north side.
  • Be less vulnerable to possible future building on the south side. The site is currently a car park. (Given this precedent for “large-scale general development’ any new neighbours might well want a huge wall of apartments on their northern boundary – or their southern. Or both.)
  • Have preserved more views (and thus rental values) for more apartments in The Helena.
  • Have meant more expansive (albeit still oblique) views west to the river and a more egalitarian distribution of that view.
  • Have meant more people have brighter apartments. Nothing much can be done about direct sunlight into the north facing apartments but having them closer to the centre of the site means they can at least see more sky.

It might have been a bit boring and maybe that’s all it comes down to. Here’s that second sentence again.

It will fit within the envelope of the site and help preserve the views of another Durst family building next door, known as the Helena. 

It’s always good for buildings to fit within their site boundaries but we now know that those were adjusted to accommodate the design. As for preserving views from the Helena, here’s a plan of its 14th-33rd floors. views Apartments D face the Hudson River and you’d think it’s these people who’d stand to lose the most as those apartments have no windows facing other directions, unlike the C and  E apartments. 5424969173_6e175c25e1_b Allowing views for (half of the) D apartments) is good but it completely blocks oblique views from all of the north side apartment types E thru M. Half the building, basically. And for what? SITE215305727619_e388bed17b_bThis development gives new meaning to the term “view corridor”. There are many, too many, construction pics on cherry I’m sure the Dursts would prefer the tenants of The Helena to not move or ask for rent reductions, but they have been sold out for the sake of this new development.

• • •

We’ve come to the end. I still don’t know why this building is the way it is. Nobody seems to be telling the truth. Here’s a statement from the BIG website. The developer approached us and asked up to introduce a new housing typology into New York. Any or all of these words could be false. Perimeter block meets point block seems to have taken the worst of both for little apparent gain. “The 800,000-square-foot polyhedronic behemoth, which will mainly have studio and one-bedroom apartments, is an almost entirely self-contained Epcot-like mini-city. Renters will rarely have to leave the building. And they’ll pay for the privilege. Prices have not been announced, but Durst thinks he can push $90 a foot for the top-floor pads. That means a large one-bedroom will likely go for more than $5,000 a month.” [therealdeal]

• • •

But man, that’s one helluva fugly corner streetwise. I got the tetrahedral blues.


7 thoughts on “Moneymaking Machines #3: 625 W57th Street

  1. via_ger

    I found your article by accident and I read it through since I live in the building. I am not clear as to the conclusion of your post…You like this from architectural point of view but not quite ? Just a few days ago students from an unnamed college were given a visit to the building presented as something special. And it is. I feel I live in a space station and I still have not decided on the location of my bed inside the zig zagged perimeter of my studio. The apartments can be seen as life size pods that can be ejected in case of emergency (or rent unpaid). Joke aside a lot of people are talking about it and are confounded by it’s looks. What are your thoughts, aesthetic or not is this building getting perhaps close to a ‘elevated’ form of Minimum Dwelling ?

    1. Graham McKay

      Dear via_ger,
      Thank you for your comments. It makes it worthwhile when people get back to me with real views and impressions I couldn’t have arrived at remotely. As you know, my main interest in the building was trying to work out why it is the shape it is but its zoning and planning history seem to have little to do with it. Ultimately, it’s a shape that contains what it needs to and without excessive internal volume that can’t be marketed as a value-adding quirkiness. I’m fascinated by the decisions that get made with apartment buildings. Along with all the practical stuff like the distances to the elevators and the garbage chute, the view from the windows and how to arrange the furniture, there’s intangibles such as whether or not people will want to live there. Your’s is the first voice I’ve heard that someone is happy to be living there and I’m happy for you. I understand what you mean by living in a space station. Some people might interpret that as being aboard some alien craft but I understand it more as belonging to something that has an identity with which you are proud to be associated. I get that. From what you said, I’ve been trying to work out whereabouts your apartment is. Is it one of the studios facing W58th behind the fire escape stairs? They have quite intriguing plans and I too like the way they don’t imply any particular furniture arrangement. I live in a studio of maybe 400 sq.ft and appreciate that freedom. Thanks again and all the best, Graham

  2. Chuck Choi

    Hi Graham,

    Great analysis cuts through the hype. BTW, I think you meant the D apartments face the Hudson River, not the East River.


  3. Curtis B Wayne

    Uh, you’ve got 57 and 58 mixed up. The high-rise is on 58, the single-loaded corridor is on 57. Just sayin, mate.

    *C B Wayne, AIA, NCARB, CORA* Architect 850 Amsterdam Avenue New York, New York 10025 203.246.8000

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