KPF’s design for One Vanderbilt not so grand: architecture review

Work marred by overly busy, almost chaotic, surface

One Vanderbilt in Midtown Manhattan (Credit: Kohn Pedersen Fox via New York YIMBY)
One Vanderbilt in Midtown Manhattan (Credit: Kohn Pedersen Fox via New York YIMBY)

Regarding SL Green’s controversial plans to put a sky-scraper on the southwest corner of 43rd and Vanderbilt Avenue: I am surprised, for starters, that Landmarks Preservation Commission would ever allow the existing building to come down. It is a pleasant, if not great building dating from the 1920s. In fact, Landmarks has put the kaibosh on scores of better-designed structures than One Vanderbilt — and often to preserve less interesting old buildings than this.

My initial reaction to the plans for the 67-story One Vanderbilt was disappointment.

It’s just another deconstructed tower in Midtown. It’s main point of interest is that the building revives the general terms of Daniel Libeskind’s initial design for the Freedom Tower at One World Trade Center.

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But then I learned that it was designed by Kohn Pedersen Fox, which gave me pause. It was not the name that impressed me so much as the general excellence of the firm’s work to date. What’s more, I have been wrong about them before, especially when I based my assessment of 505 Fifth Avenue on initial renderings. As with all of the firm’s work, that building is extremely well made and more elegant in design that I had anticipated.

Knowing that at KPF is behind this latest project (which, at 1450 feet, aspires to be the second tallest in the city), I have no doubt that the quality of the workmanship will make its pleasant to inhabit and pleasant to walk past at street level.

Still, the general design feels too chaotic. This is not the creative chaos of the deconstructivist idiom, but rather the chaos brought by the numerous ideas that seem to elude the designer’s complete control. Beside the tangle of masses across the entire height of the building and the prosthetic accretions and subtractions that mark its busy surface, there is a listless use of curtain-walls, ribbon windows, mullions and infill to provide texture to that surface.

In short, KPF can do better.