Published On: Thu, Jan 16th, 2014

Steven Roth’s Vornado Realty Trust Prepares Needle Tower Luxury Condo Project Overlooking Central Park

Needle shaped luxury residential condominium towers continue to proliferate in New York City, almost as fast it seems as bamboo grows in the jungles of Asia.

Now another one is about to be born at 220 Central Park South, close to Columbus Circle and developed by Vornado Realty Trust, headed by Steven Roth.

Rising over 900 feet into the air, and directly overlooking Central Park the 41 storey building will be dedicated to exclusive luxury apartments. The site also backs on to West 58th, Street and the project has only recently emerged from a prolonged legal battle with another developer, Gary Barnett’s Extell Development group, who are planning a competing tower a little to the South themselves, actually on West 57th Street, and with the Vornado project potentially blocking some their new building’s own views of Central Park.

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220 Central Park South Manhattan                                                                                                 Steven Roth / Getty

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These new mega tall residential towers depend for success on two new trends. The first is simply the triumph of marketing, where the higher you build the more you can now charge the luxury buyer per square foot, who may be desperately seeking that extra element of exclusivity to validate his/her sense of worth and exceptionalism.

 

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220 Central Park South Manhattan – rendering of exterior, penthouse and rooftop level: post-modernist design expression at its best

The second is a technical one, the development of new high speed elevator technologies, that can carry people safely and reliably up and down to great heights, at very high speeds. A needle tower is usually inherently an inefficient building form in economic terms, as there is just no room in the core for multiple elevator banks. For commercial office buildings they still do not work, as the volume of people going up and down all day can still not be accommodated no matter how fast the elevators go.
For residential developments, with far fewer people going in and out they can now work very well however as fewer elevators are now required. Mind you it may still happen, say at 8-15 am every morning, if everyone is taking the kids to school at the same time the owner of the top floor penthouse of such a building may have to wait longer than he might like. However I guess the main purchasers in these buildings will by now be mostly empty nesters anyway. Let us hope so, otherwise their new definition of luxury may take a substantial dent after a while after they have moved in.

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220 Central Park South Manhattan – rendering of interior living space

Ten years in the making this project is ready now to commence, with the demolition of the existing building on the site. There is currently a pretty run down rental property there, which has had rent-controlled tenants. All of these had to be bought out, essentially one at a time, to make the new project finally possible.

For the sake of peace, and to allow both companies to get on with building their projects, and finally make some money, recently Vornado and Extell each realigned the plans of their own new building project slightly to help both have good views of the Park, in a sign of rare cooperation. In addition, Extell sold back to Vornado a lease they had on the parking garage underneath 220 Central Park South even though it still has five years to run.

The architectural design theme of many of the recent new residential towers has been lots of flush tinted glass, as well exemplified by another Extell recent project on West 57th Street, called One57, now nearing completion.

 

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220 Central Park South Manhattan – rendering of interior living space

By choosing post-modernist architect Robert Stern to design this new building Vornado sent a signal that they might do something different, and boy have they ever. Robert Stern has now delivered up a limestone-clad masterpiece that will define the landscape of that part of town for a long time to come.

Professor Stern is Dean of the School of Architecture at Yale and it seems he doesn’t actually like the term post-modernist as applied to himself. Personally, however, I think the term fits very well into the context of this building, and context is what he himself prefers to emphasize in any case when he offers up the alternative description “modern traditionalist” to cover his own work.

Quite simply this is a very beautiful building that uses the choice of stone as its predominant material to great advantage. In keeping with the essence of post-modernist ideology it also emphasizes both the top of the building, which here is subtle and definite and instantly identifiable, and the street level. And, it does so in this case with very subtle flourishes – unlike the original Phillip Johnson post-modern attempt to do this with the AT&T building, which later became Sony’s headquarters for many years. That effort simply looks totally clumsy by comparison, just as it did on the day it opened too, at least to this writer’s eye.

As well as the 41 storey tower the renderings show a smaller fourteen storey building beside it, with an internal entrance court defining how residents will relate to both buildings every day when they come home, in keeping with post-modernist views on the importance of integrating the street level experience of a building. The only thing it seems we don’t know yet is how much the new project will cost to build, when it will be finished, exactly how many units it will contain or how much buyers will have to pay to purchase them. It is not going to be cheap.

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220 Central Park South Manhattan – rendering of exterior, ground level with courtyard

At a meta-level the story of this building project is a story about the renewal of New York, about new lamps for old. Many old structures are being torn down all over the city now as it seeks to keep pace with the needs of growth through greater density and higher-rise developments. Of course there is a price to be paid; not all the structures being demolished around town may be quite ready for it, though most of them likely are, and there are social costs to be incurred as well. Separately, for example, Vornado are going to tear down a famous old book shop, the Rizzoli Bookstore, on West 57th sTreet, for another project and it is not clear yet how the old Steinway building is going to fare under its new owners. Vornado for one have promised to help relocate the book store. But for the city of New York the pluses obviously outweigh the minuses as the city continues to grow with renewed exuberance.

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