New UWS tower won’t answer any architectural prayers

SJP’s 200 Amsterdam — which sits on a former synagogue site — won’t add much design distinction to the area, but it will fit in just fine

Dec.December 01, 2017 11:00 AM

Upper West Siders have a reputation for pushing back on new additions to their neighborhood. In 2003, when a monument bearing the name of every American who had ever won a Nobel Prize was installed in Theodore Roosevelt Park next to the Museum of Natural History, a group of angry residents argued that Nobel was unfit to honor since he played a role in manufacturing and selling of weapons of war.

The latest project to catch the ire of Upper West Side residents is SJP Properties and Mitsui Fudosan’s 51-story condo tower set to rise at 200 Amsterdam Avenue and 69th Street, where the Lincoln Square Synagogue once stood. The 112-unit condo building, for which excavation recently started, will top out at 668 feet. Until late last month, when Extell Development announced that it would be tripling the height of its proposed tower on West 66th Street, 200 Amsterdam was slated to be the tallest tower on the Upper West Side.

But it hasn’t been an easy road for SJP, which paid $275 million for the site in 2015, and its partner.

The fury over the project prompted a community group, calling itself the Committee for Environmentally Sound Development, to file a zoning challenge that temporarily halted construction. And local elected officials, including Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer and City Council member Helen Rosenthal, have added their voices to the chorus of opposition.

But in September, the Department of Buildings gave the project the green light to resume construction.

While opponents argue that the height and size of the new tower will alter the neighborhood, their claim is hardly new. And it could be said that the Upper West Side lost much of its prewar charm long ago — indeed, as far back as the mid-1950s, when the New York Coliseum, a Robert Moses-era project, was completed. (That building, of course, was demolished in 2000 to make way for the infinitely better Time Warner Center).

More recently, the neighborhood has become a playground for developers who seemed more concerned with profits than architecture. Some of those less-than-stellar designs include the Columbia on 96th and Broadway, which was erected in 1980 by the late William Zeckendorf Jr., who also developed the architecturally appalling Central Park Place, just off of Columbus Circle. Even recent developments, such as Handel Architects’ 42-story Aire on West 67th Street, offer little in the way of distinguished design.

Furthermore, although opponents seem to have focused on 200 Amsterdam’s height, the tower won’t exceed the Trump International on Central Park West by much.

Judging from the renderings, 200 Amsterdam will not do much to add any level of architectural sophistication to the Upper West Side skyline, but it’s also not likely to fall far beneath the level of quality in the rest of the city — certainly of the Upper West Side — over the past few years.

Its exterior has been designed by the Boston-based firm Elkus Manfredi, which has done relatively little in the way of residential real estate to date, and most of it in the Boston area. 

The firm, which is headed by founding principal David Manfredi, has more commercial and institutional experience under its belt, including the interior design of the Shops at Columbus Circle — the mall inside the Time Warner Center.

The interiors of the firm’s latest building, however, will be designed by CetraRuddy, a local firm that’s done some very fine work in New York, including designing the brand-new Lincoln Square Synagogue next door to this new tower.

Given that 200 Amsterdam will rise over land purchased from the synagogue and that CetraRuddy has been tapped to design the interiors of this new building, one has to wonder why it wasn’t hired to design the building itself. The firm did, after all, conceive of one of the most distinguished residential towers in recent Manhattan architecture: One Madison Park.

As designed by Elkus Manfredi, the new building will have a somewhat distinctive, but hardly revolutionary, design. Its west-facing exposure presents itself as a continuous planar surface, while its eastern exposure recedes from the street — starting at the 23rd floor — in a series of seven gradual setbacks. Those setbacks are the main distinguishing aspect of the façade, which otherwise feels quite familiar.

The renderings show an exterior consisting mostly of glass, but with a surface that has a fairly busy interaction of horizontal infill between the floors and pronounced vertical shafts between the windows. In this respect, there is a clear continuity between the present project and earlier buildings from the studio of Elkus Manfredi, including the West End Residences, Harborview and Fenway Triangle Trilogy in Boston as well as 75 SL at Station Landing in Medford, Mass. I have not seen any of those residential buildings in person, but from photographs they all seem to be made with a standard — though by no means exceptional — degree of quality.

Like all New York City skyscrapers, much of the new building’s success will depend on the quality of the material and craftsmanship. Will it look slapped together, like so many other pricey new residential developments on the Upper West Side — including the Corner on Broadway and 72nd Street? Or will it appear to be a more solid structure, like Robert A.M. Stern’s 15 Central Park West?

Either way, even if 200 Amsterdam isn’t an architectural gem, it will not greatly alter the spirit or architectural character of the Upper West Side.

(To view more projects in development on the Upper West Side, click here)

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