Architecture review: Raphael Vinoly’s 432 Park is the new king of the hill

A rendering of 432 Park Avenue (credit: dbox)
A rendering of 432 Park Avenue (credit: dbox)

The finishing touches are being placed on Extell Development’s 1,005-foot One57 on West 57th Street. But like the Chrysler Building — which was the world’s tallest building in 1930, but held that title for a mere 11 months before the Empire State Building came along — One57 will soon be replaced as the city’s (and hemisphere’s) tallest residential tower by 432 Park Avenue.

Developed by Harry Macklowe and the CIM Group over what was once the Drake Hotel on the northwest corner of Park and 56th Street, 432 Park is set to rise 1,395 feet and will alter the skyline even more than One57 has. Indeed, when completed, 432 Park will be, quite possibly, the tallest building in the city — One World Trade Center will rise 1,776 feet but that is including its antenna. Shorn of the antenna, it is only 1,368.

The footprint of this East Side tower — which, according to the sales office, will have a little over 100 condo units ranging in size from 2,600 to 8,200 square feet — is actually L-shaped. It begins on Park and 56th Street and then winds its way around to the mid-block section of 57th between Park and Madison avenues. (The building, which is slated to be completed in 2015, will have an entrance on 56th Street. On 57th Street, there will be a lower-lying structure for retail that will extend from the street back to the tower.)

Rafael Viñoly

The tower’s design was conceived by Rafael Viñoly, and although unauthorized renderings have been floating around for a while now, the developer only officially released renderings of the structure in March. Those renderings confirm earlier impressions, which were highly promising.

Born in Uruguay and raised in Argentina, Viñoly has had a distinguished career in New York City. In 2003, he was runner-up to Daniel Libeskind in designing the master plan for the World Trade Center site. Some of his past projects include the Brooklyn Children’s Museum, the Bronx County Hall of Justice, Jazz at Lincoln Center and the City College of New York’s Spitzer School of Architecture, Urban Design and Landscape Architecture.

So far, however, he’s better known for his institutional work than for his residential towers, which means that 432 Park is (at least in New York) something of a departure for him.

Most architects’ renderings, of course, seek to reveal a prospective building in the most favorable light. In one of the most telling renderings for 432 Park, however, you see nothing more than a marble ledge, two metallic seats, a coffee cup and a croissant on a simple white plate. Beyond, and slightly below, disappearing into the ether of a Manhattan morning, is the Empire State Building, and farther south, the various towers of the reborn World Trade Center. In the greatest coup de théâtre of all, however, you see the spire of the Chrysler Building — which, according to the rendering, barely rises to the level of the croissant. This, more than any of the other renderings, is the money shot, the one that sends the blood of Manhattanites racing, not to mention the pulse of moneyed foreigners looking for a piece of real estate in which to invest.

Harry Macklowe

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In other images, we see the building itself, and if the renderings are accurate, it is a thing of beauty, far surpassing the plodding gaucheries of Christian de Portzamparc’s One57.

Recalling a conceptualist sculpture by artist Sol Lewitt, it rises up as a sequence of perfectly square modules along its entire height, without any of the distinction between base, shaft or summit that is the norm with more traditional skyscrapers. Other than what looks to be two-story mechanical cores placed at intervals every 12 floors, there is nothing to give a sense of scale to the building. The sense of pure geometry, the almost polemical denial of scale, only enhances the sense of immensity. As it rises, 432 Park asserts itself like a cross between a bean-pole and a No. 2 Ticonderoga, while the forest of high-rises that have defined Midtown for the past three generations barely seems to come up to its knees. There is beauty in that freakish thinness, in the almost-absurd notion that something so slight could rise so high with so little visible support.

Even more revolutionary than the height, however, is that it’s a residential tower. It would be astounding enough to work 1,400 feet above Manhattan, but to awaken there would be an almost metaphysical experience. Or so the developers hope. And if they are right, then the topmost apartment will represent a trophy so tempting that its price will dwarf any of the fabled tallies for 15 Central Park West (Sandy Weill’s former penthouse there, of course, sold to Russian billionaire Dmitry Rybolovlev for $88 million) and One57 (where a unit is reportedly in contract for $90 million).

This reinvention of the typology of the skyscraper for residential use is a result, in Manhattan, of the desire — which began with the colonizing of Soho in the 1980s — of younger buyers, in their attraction to centers of art and culture, to inhabit areas of the city that had originally been zoned for commercial use.

But that cannot be the entire explanation for buildings like 432 Park and One57. There are other residential buildings in their vicinity, some of them quite tall, like Cesar Pelli’s Carnegie Hall Tower, at 152 West 57th Street. Nor is the skyscraper’s reinvention a question of technology, since the engineering skills that will eventually create 432 Park are not greatly different from those that gave us the Empire State Building more than 80 years ago.

This ambition — combined with the Bloomberg administration’s massive rezoning efforts — has resulted in condo towers taller than anything that has been seen here or anywhere else.

If 432 Park, which will consist of glass cladding over a concrete core, turns out as well as its renderings promise, it will be perhaps the defining landmark north of the Financial District — at least when viewed from north of 59th Street, where it will rise in glorious isolation above the lowlier skyscrapers, including One57, that now define the skyline of Central Park South.

And together with One Madison Park — the perilously thin Cetra/Ruddy-designed tower that’s been unfairly maligned — 432 Park suggests that finally, after all the hype about starchitects coming to the Big Apple, some genuinely distinguished architecture is being created once again in Manhattan.