My friend Aris, who has a way of expressing things succinctly, describes Bravo’s “Real Housewives” franchise as “wrestling for women.”
He was similarly profound this summer as we sat in Central Park partaking of certain liquid refreshments from an athletic squirt bottle. Discussing the megalith luxury condominiums that are rising along the south end of the park, he nailed their effect. “They’re turning the park into a courtyard,” he said.
Central Park has always served as a leafy oasis, a refuge from city life. But these skyscrapers are so tall—One57 is over 1,000 feet, and 432 Park Ave. recently topped off at 1,396 feet, overtaking the World Trade Center (minus its antenna) and leaving the Empire State Building in the dust. You can almost feel the breath of the billionaires they’re being marketed to on the back of your neck.
Here’s how out-sized 432 Park is: It makes One57, which previously appeared as if it was giving Central Park the finger, appear modest, even demure, by comparison. If I were a plutocrat who had already plunked down $50 million or $100 million, or whatever penthouses in the building are going for these days, I might be suffering buyer’s remorse.
And there are apparently larger condos still to come. At least one of them, topping 1,400 feet, is certain to give 432 Park erectile dysfunction.
Before you know it, Manhattan is going to resemble San Gimignano, the medieval hill town famous for its dozen tower houses, absent the Tuscan charm.
Nonetheless, I’ve decided to love 432 Park—though entirely for selfish reasons.
A couple of years ago, an apartment building rose a few blocks south of mine, partially blocking my view. This was cause for despair because there’s nothing that taps Gershwin’s “Rhapsody In Blue,” that lends a touch of magic to mundane reality, like the New York City skyline when the lights blink on after dark.
So I’ve been anticipating 432’s contribution to my view shed for a while. Even when it was still a hole in the ground, I calculated where it might rise relative to my apartment, and kept my fingers crossed that it wouldn’t be blocked by some closer tall building.
Several months ago I rejoiced—I don’t think that’s too strong a word; then again I’ve always been a geek for tall buildings—when the crane at its summit peeked out from behind a building that I could see from my living-room window. Though it required binoculars to confirm the sighting.
Binoculars were no longer necessary as the luxury condo rose higher and higher. I know I annoyed my wife, though probably no more than normal, when I daily dragged her over to the window proudly to note the skyscraper’s progress.
I even started to get greedy. A view from my living room wasn’t enough. I wanted to see it from every room in the apartment. I almost succeeded. The thing is so exceedingly tall that, while the building itself never made it that high, I could spot its crane from my East 80s bedroom window, above the apartment house directly across the street that blocks everything else.
The only problem is that I sometimes must leave the apartment. And from just about anywhere else in the city, Park Avenue in particular, 432 Park is out of all proportion. It feels ridiculous in a way the Empire State Building, which looms over Fifth Avenue in the 30s never did.
Perhaps because the Empire State—on a pedestal (or maybe that’s just the model on my mantelpiece) and with setbacks on the upper floors, and a tapered point—seems to acknowledge poetry’s contribution to architecture.
I’ve heard 432 Park, designed by Rafael Viñoly, described as elegant. But how elegant can an edifice be when it so totally overwhelms, when it seems to belittle, its surroundings?
I always fancied the idea that New York’s skyline reflected, literally, America’s rise and greatness through the 20th century.
“Every epoch has another response,” the architect Santiago Calatrava observed when we discussed 432 Park last week. “What is interesting,” Mr. Calatrava added, “is that New York keeps alive the idea of rising up. It’s important to the identity of the city.”
I agree, but I dread to think what these behemoths say about our age, though I suppose that’s preferable to the alternative—a building bust rather than a boom. So I’ll enjoy the view from my window, perhaps purchase a 432 Park model for my mantelpiece if one becomes available, and focus on the refreshments, rather than the encroaching skyline, next time I meet Aris in Central Park.