Zeckendorfs’ 520 Park classic yet without precedent: Architecture review

$130M triplex penthouse may well merit its stratospheric sticker price

Renderings of 520 Park Avenue (Credit: Zeckendorf Development and Seventh Art)
Renderings of 520 Park Avenue (Credit: Zeckendorf Development and Seventh Art)

UPDATED, 3:24 p.m., Nov. 21: I have always questioned the wisdom of Jean Patou, the cosmetics company, when it chose to market its “Joy” as “the world’s most expensive perfume.” This strategy went against the common marketing wisdom that one should try to persuade the public that they were underpaying, that they were getting a steal.

I was similarly inclined to question the wisdom of Arthur Zeckendorf when he informed Bloomberg News recently — as though it were a feather in his cap — that the penthouse of his new development, known as 520 Park Avenue, would cost $130 million. If a sale does happen at that price, it would be New York City’s priciest-ever apartment deal. Clearly it was his calculation, as it was the calculation of the folks at Jean Patou, that the sort of clients he was seeking would be lured by the price tag, rather than repelled. I suspect that he knows something I don’t and that he will be proved right by the time the building’s 31 units go on sale, early next year (the first move-ins are slated for 2017).

The Zeckendorfs, as readers will surely recall, were the developers behind the already fabled 15 Central Park West, and they are trying to work the same magic on the East side, by engaging once again the services of Robert A.M. Stern. Clad in the Indiana limestone that recalls some of the finest prewar facades of the Upper East Side, his new building will incarnate, in the words of the website, “grandeur, comfort and symmetry.” It occurs to me that that one phrase sums up perfectly the aspirations of Robert A.M. Stern’s architecture for the past forty years.

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The building, according to the latest renderings, is a simple shaft with nearly symmetrical windows lined up in a strict bay division that continues nearly uninterrupted all the way to the summit. To avoid monotony, however, the easternmost extension of the shaft appears to be ever so slightly recessed. The uniformity of the shaft is qualified mainly at the very top, when the windows, each with a balcony, suddenly rise two stories, while a terrace, partially covered by an aedicule-like pergola, opens out to the east. Finally the very summit, containing, I imagine, the building’s mechanical core, is one of those attractively anomalous frills that Robert Stern and his partners use to crown their residential buildings and that manage to square the circle of being utterly without architectural precedents, even as they succeed in looking classical and establishmentarian.

At 12,394 square feet, and given what prices apartments are commanding these days, this triplex penthouse may well merit its stratospheric sticker price, especially when you consider that its 1,257-square-foot terrace, with its commanding views of Central Park, is larger than the apartments of most families of four. In addition to the penthouse, the 54-story building will offer 23 full-floor units of 4,600 square feet each (starting at $16.2 million) as well as seven duplexes of nearly 10,000 square feet (starting at $67 million).

I should point out that this building, though it is being marketed as 520 Park Avenue, is actually at 45 East 60th Street — midway between Madison and Park Avenues, and is not on Park at all.