With glass costly, a new idea: Walls

Mar.March 03, 2008 02:06 PM

The future may be unclear — specifically, the future façades of new chic condo buildings. As the price for glass increases and the economy and housing market waver, some developers are looking to use less expensive alternative materials as they design new buildings.

“[Glass] is great in a booming sales market when prices are going through the roof, but when you have a market like today, when prices are higher, it’s a more difficult market to sell apartments, and developers have to find ways to cut costs,” said David Maundrell, the president of Brooklyn-based brokerage firm Aptsandlofts.com.

Tom Graham, the senior community manager leading a Jersey City project for K. Hovnanian Homes, a national homebuilder, said through a spokeswoman that costs for glass have skyrocketed. He said that while 77 Hudson in Jersey City, a building with a glass curtain wall, was able to obtain early price commitments, “materials have almost doubled in price” since the developers bought that curtain wall in 2006. Graham noted that the global demand for glass curtain wall production has exceeded manufacturing capacity, which is driving up the price.

As a result of the cost inflation, while there are still glass structures going up in the city, some projects are getting back to bricks and mortar.

“A lot of people are getting back to brick,” Maundrell said. “With rental developments, you’ll see a lot of brick on the front façade, and maybe stucco on the rear of the building.”

Developers and brokers say that an all-glass building will cost between $75 and $135 a square foot, depending upon the type of glass used and the degree of transparency. The cost is slightly less per square foot for buildings that appear to be all glass, but have slabs on the façade that break up those sheets.

One of the latest is 1 York Street, architect Enrique Norten’s glass condo just below Canal Street on the edge of Tribeca.

By comparison, a brick façade costs only about $25 per square foot and a stucco façade is “a drop cheaper,” though the price could be slightly higher depending on the material below the façade, Maundrell said.

Scott Aaron, the director of development at the Brauser Group, was planning a new 10-story building with his colleagues and they had just one criterion: it would not be entirely made of glass. Instead, the building at 100 West 18th Street in Chelsea — a neighborhood of old brick structures mixed with shiny new high-rises — is constructed of industrial-size black brick with ironwork composite within the clay to give the bricks an iridescent sheen.

“We made a conscious effort to go in 100 percent the opposite direction of what you see out there in a lot of developments as far as the exterior, which is obviously the glass,” said Aaron, who added that the price of glass was not a factor.

When they began sketching the building two years ago, the team wanted to create something that fit more into the historical and industrial Chelsea and Meatpacking District neighborhoods, he said. “The goal was to differentiate ourselves from the market.”

Still, the group is working with the same architect on two glass buildings currently in the planning stages — one on East 90th Street, and the other on Fulton Street.

In certain jobs, architects and developers are shying away from glass because of its high costs even if glass is preferred, said Andrew Gerringer, the managing director of new developments at Prudential Douglas Elliman.

“I think people in general want to use glass,” he said. “Would they use it less because it’s more expensive? In certain jobs, that is the case.”

Gerringer said one building he knows of started out as complete glass but had to replace a percentage of the exterior with stone because of escalating costs.

“At the end of the day, things were getting tighter,” Gerringer noted. But in a typical situation, he added, developers will recommend all-glass buildings when appropriate for the neighborhood. The high cost of glass is transferred to apartment costs, he added.

Prices for an all-glass building in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, with waterfront views of Manhattan can run between $800 and $1,000 per square foot, he said, while on the Upper East Side the same building would go for $1,600 to $2,000 per square foot.

Gerringer is currently marketing a nearly all-glass building, the Oro, on Gold Street near Flatbush Avenue in Brooklyn for $750 per square foot.

Partial glass buildings in Williamsburg run about $700 to $800 per square foot, Gerringer noted, while they cost about $1,300 to $1,600 per square foot on the Upper East Side, he said.

For Amy Goldberg, a broker with Shares of New York, who says she deals mostly with prewar buildings, the end of the glass craze came recently when clients announced they wanted an apartment “with real walls.”

“There are certain people who will [want] new-new, and there are certain people who really want to step back in time and feel like they’re in their grandmother’s house,” Goldberg said. For some clients, Goldberg said, living in a glass building means missing out on a “homey” feel. Pre-war brick buildings don’t necessarily imply amenities that will be antiquated as well, she is quick to add.

“You will find modern touches within old buildings, you absolutely will, except the feeling is different,” Goldberg said.

For some, the appeal of non-glass buildings is the ability to add a more personal touch — to decorate it as the homeowner would prefer instead of focusing on a given view, all hours of the day.

“There is room for people to decorate their own homes rather than being decorated with city views in these glass boxes that we’re seeing,” Goldberg said. “There are walls in these old buildings where [inhabitants] can put those things which are familiar to them on the walls and enjoy them.”

Aaron added when he talks to prospective buyers of 100 West 18th, who include art collectors interested in the Chelsea art scene, they say they are attracted to one major perk of the brick building: It has solid walls from which they can hang their art. “A glass building limits the wall space,” Aaron said. “The only walls that you have that you can actually hang something on are on the interior walls of the apartment” because each external wall is glass.

Scott Heller, the director of special projects at the Brauser Group, said interest in the black brick building exceeded expectations and they’ve increased asking prices five times in a four-month stretch.

He said buyers, especially those who have trekked around to a number of glass buildings, have taken to the black brick. In fact, he said, the façade has helped differentiate the West 18th Street site from other new construction in the vicinity, including the nearby Yves building, which itself has a lot of buzz.

“Historically, brick buildings were the norm in the city; now it seems that brick buildings are different than what you typically see — there’s been an interesting twist in the balance of design of buildings,” Aaron said.

Maundrell said he was recently selling a seven-story glass condominium project in Williamsburg near McCarren Park that faced opposition from the community. The community was angry that the building was so out of context with the brick-and-stone neighborhood, and some buyers were hesitant to live in a glass apartment on the second floor.

“Glass buildings are great, but sometimes they’re not practical,” Maundrell said. “If the whole building is glass, you have to put curtains up and there really is no privacy.”

In some booming residential neighborhoods, glass buildings are all but impossible to construct.

“Tribeca’s not a neighborhood for glass; it’s more the warehouse-and-brick type of thing,” Maundrell said, also adding to the list Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill and the Greenpoint waterfront district. “[The] Landmarks [Preservation Commission] will never approve it,” he said, referring to the city’s architectural and historical preservation wing. And Maundrell, who said he is currently consulting on over 100 construction projects with 25 in development, said that none of them involve glass.

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