Check out the trash basket that inspired 432 Park

"There's a certain amount of penis envy" in NYC development, Macklowe says during Cornell talk

TRD New York /
May.May 29, 2015 05:07 PM

UPDATED, May 30, 3:42 p.m.: Pure, revolutionary, genuinely distinguished — these are all terms that architecture critics have used to describe Rafael Vinoly’s masterwork, the Western Hemisphere’s tallest residential tower, 432 Park Avenue. But would they say the same of the trash basket it was modeled on?

At a Cornell Center for Real Estate and Finance lecture in December recently uncovered by The Real Deal, Macklowe Properties chairman Harry Macklowe, who co-developed the building with CIM Group, revealed that the humble object, conceived by Austrian architect and designer Josef Hoffmann, served as an important touchstone for the building.

“If you look at it very carefully you see a rhythm, you see a pattern, you see what we call push-pull between negative and positive. So that was very inspirational to Rafael Vinoly and I,” he said.

Sources told TRD Thursday that the buyer of the building’s highest penthouse is Saudi Arabian billionaire Fawaz Al Hokair, who paid $95 million for the full-floor pad.

Macklowe also revealed during the talk that Italian starchitect Renzo Piano, designer of the new Whitney Museum in the Meatpacking District as well as the New York Times Building at 620 Eighth Avenue, was being considered for 432 Park.

Piano appears to have been quite solicitous of Macklowe — he sent the developer a bottle of Grappa with a rough sketch of the building and a note. Macklowe shared this photo of the gift during the lecture.

“Renzo Piano had said to me — if you have a pure architectural form like a square and you uphold the integrity of that architectural form you will build a beautiful building,” Macklowe said. “That stayed in my mind, and I had considered Renzo Piano for the architect, but it didn’t work out for several reasons.”

Macklowe seemed proud of the overall warm reception the design has received, and said he suspects it might be a question of relativity.

“We have not had anything other than the endorsement of the building I think because some other tall buildings that have been built have not been as attractive, I guess we’ve had a little bit of a free ride,” he said.

And though he refrained from naming names, it isn’t difficult to imagine some of the less classical supertall projects he was referring to.

Of the supertall trend in general, he said, “perhaps there’s a certain amount of penis envy… there might be that inherent competition.” At 1,396 feet tall, 432 Park Avenue is, for now, the tallest residential  tower in the city, but will likely soon be eclipsed by Extell Development’s Nordstrom Tower (1,775 feet, with spire), and JDS Development and Property Markets Group’s 111 West 57th Street (1,428 feet, no spire).

Macklowe also discussed the design for another of his iconic projects, the repositioning of the GM Building at 767 Fifth Avenue and the creation of the Apple cube. He said he arranged the deal with Steve Jobs in half an hour.

As design inspiration in that location, he studied the Hayden Planetarium on the Upper West Side and the famous I.M. Pei-designed pyramid entrance to the Louvre in Paris.

“Just as in collecting art, buildings too are only momentary, because our stewardship is just the length of our life, and that of course has a beginning and an end,” a pensive Macklowe told the students. Of his projects, he said, “I’ve been fortunate enough to leave that mark behind me, which will live long after I’m gone. It’s not going to pay a dividend to me, as such, but to me internally it’s really very satisfying.”

The talk was given as part of the Dean’s Distinguished Lecture Series, organized by professor Daniel Quan.

David Weinstein, recent Cornell graduate and former co-president of the real estate club, said that Macklowe made a point of making himself available to students by meeting with smaller groups both before and after his speech. “You could feel his vision coming out before you,” he said.

Correction: A previous version of this article had David Weinstein’s name wrong. Also, a previous version had the incorrect address of the New York Times building. It is at 620 Eighth Avenue.

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