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  • Subject area(s): Engineering
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  • Published on: 7th September 2019
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Who would imagine a building of 1,421 feet could rise from an 80 by 60 feet lot? The first to envision it were JDS Development Group and Property Market Group. In light of the new sky-living trend for the ultra rich, the co-developers decided to build a super-tall, super slender building at 111 57th Street on a minuscule lot. Started in 2015, and estimated to be finished by 2019, the structure is now on its way to becoming the tallest residential tower in the Western Hemisphere. It is unlike any of the modern super-tall buildings on the street, primarily because of the way in which it recalls and reinvents pre-war architectural styles. The few published models of the pencil-like structure have already made it an icon, as people both excitedly and fearfully await its completion. Located next to New York’s most popular shopping avenue and only steps away from Central Park, 111 could potentially mark the new centre of the island. It’s most unique features, apart from its extreme slenderness, will be its feathered tip and glistening facades.

But above all, 111 will be the first super-tall to consider and extract ideas from the city’s historic character.

The inspiration for the design dates back to before World War II. While most skyscrapers on 57th Street embody a strictly modern, almost futuristic style, 111 weaves into its design characteristics of New York’s “Golden Age” of architecture (Williams). This period, lasting between 1890 and 1940, saw the drastic movement of people from rural areas to larger towns. In New York City, the demand for homes boomed, and new residences for the upper class were built with lavish decoration. The exteriors were made of steel and stone, while the interiors featured high ceilings of up to nine feet, oak-wood floors, decorative mouldings, brass fixtures, and wide hallways (Williams & Vecey).

At around the same time, NYC saw the beginning of high rises. New technology allowed developers to build increasingly high, and by the 1930s, both the Empire State and Chrysler building thrusted skyward. Soon, New York became a city of looming verticality. The 111 project aims to combine pre-war decor with the modern skyscraper, and create a one of a kind building that speaks both New York City as well as the technological future.

The main members of the team driving the project are JDS Development Group, Property Markets Group (PMG), SHoP Architects, Studio Sofield Interior Design, and Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group. The co-developers, JDS and PMG, have extensive experience in the luxury residential market. Both firms conducted the constructions of the Stella and Walker Towers in NYC, and currently have a series of projects in the works (111w57.com contributors). SHoP Architects, a frequent collaborator of the developers, is a firm with a reputation for its inventive designs and use of traditional architectural materials. The firm is also known for its practicality, always making sure that its designs are durable and fit into the budget (111w57.com contributors). One of SHoP’s present projects is super-tall 9 Dekalb Avenue, Brooklyn’s next tallest building (shoparc.com contributors). Furthermore, Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group handles sales and advertising. The firm is currently attempting to remove all leaked model-images of 111 on social media. Only a few visuals have been released on the official website at 111w57.com, but the co-developers want to reserve the rest for interested buyers at their formal gallery. Overall, the various partners have been working together to create a structure very obviously developed by human thought and craft. In other words, they aspire to end up with a building that emanates the human spirit, rather than one that appears as the product of self-programmed machinery.

The project consists of two parts. The first is renovating the interior of landmarked Steinway Hall, and the second is constructing a new 1,421 feet tower immediately next to the landmark. Steinway Hall, designed by Warren and Wetmore in 1923, serves as a concert hall, instrument manufacturer, and  piano shop (111w57.com contributors). In order to build the new tower, JDS and PMG purchased the landmark located on 57th Street in 2013, along with the adjacent lot (111w57.com contributors).The air rights from Steinway as well as other surrounding buildings have been transferred to an adjacent lot, where construction of the tower is underway. The co-developers worked with the Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) to keep the footprint of the tower small and as least invasive to Steinway. Furthermore, an open atrium space will be placed in front of the tower to make it less visible from the street, and give Steinway room to be “read in its historic context” (wsp.pb.com contributors). Michael Stern, head of JDS stated, “We knew that incorporating Steinway would make the building much better, much more efficient (than the original plan designed by Cetra/Rudy); it would be wider, taller, and have more commanding views” (Fedak, Budin). However, the media often ignores that setting the building back will require the demolition of the back end of Steinway (Budin). Every commissioner of the LPC, except for one, agreed that the building still deserved the approval based on its one-of-a kind design (Budin). Because the tower will still partially invade the landmark’s site, the LPC has been given the right to review and monitor the construction of the tower as it unfolds (Budin).

Funding for the project was acquired through a series of loans. On January 6th of 2015, the project was approved by the Department of Buildings, and later that year, the team finalised a $500 million construction loan from Apollo Global Management and AIG (ctbuh.org contributors). It has been made public that some funding was provided by Apollo Global Management and AIG, while the rest was arranged by investors and the co-developers themselves (the exact amounts are unknown) (Willet). In anticipation of the downfall in the luxury market, the developers are fortunate to find themselves spending less on building per square foot than they had planned (Putzier). The average cost of building per square foot is currently between $2,300 and $2,500, whereas 432 Park Avenue cost above $3000 per square foot, and 220 Central park South is estimated to cost in the $5,000s (Putzier). According to 111’s offering plan, the average asking price, however, will be $5,700 per square foot (Putzier). This comparatively low building cost will provide the team with a safety net to pay off the construction loan once it is due in mid 2019 (Putzier). Despite the “slowing demand for high priced units,” there is still hope that the luxury market recovers while the building is under construction. And even so, the developers remain confident that the uniqueness of their project will help them succeed.

In the original plan, the building was predicted to climb 1,350 feet. However, the co-developers later decided that it would rise 1,421 feet, rendering it taller than 432 Park and making it the tallest residential tower in the Western Hemisphere. (Budin). It will also become one of the most slender skyscrapers in the world, with a total of 400,000 square feet rising from a lot as small as 80 by 60 feet (Pham, shoparc.com contributors). The overall width to height ratio will be 1 to 23 feet, while 432 Park’s ratio stands at 1 to 15 (Bockmann, Pham) Keeping in mind the extensive debate revolving around super-talls by the Midtown community, JDS and PMG have requested that the design be as urban sensitive as possible. 111’s extreme slenderness, combined with it’s feathered-crown, will make it cast the most brief shadow of all the buildings holding the glamorous 57th street address. Nonetheless, concerns that 111’s shadow will be longer and reach higher North on Central Park are still prevalent.

Construction began in 2015 when funding and legal approvals were in place. As a way to preserve the historical significance of Steinway, the Neo-renaissance exterior will be left untouched. The limestone, beaux arts, classical proportions, and beautiful stone carvings are under strong protection by the LPC. SHoP Architects’ design for the new tower, however, brings back proportions and materials of historic buildings in NYC. According to Dana Getman, SHoP Associate, the slender look, such as that of the Flatiron building, is actually a return to the pre-war style. Early skyscrapers did not have air-conditioning and were likely to be skinnier to provide more light and air to the people living inside them (wsp.pb.com contributors). “While the super-slender form may look startling new, it is itself a heritage project,” explained Getman (wsp.pb.com contributors). Additionally, the uppermost part of the building will be an uninhabited crown, composed of a series of setbacks. These setbacks will begin on the south side at 1,134 feet, and recess ever so slightly until the pinnacle, creating a feathered form. This progressive thinning of the tower is meant to make it appear as if it fades into the sky (jdsdevelopment.com contributors). At night, the crown will be lit up by L’Observatoire International (Hylton). This lighting is meant to shimmer down the facades to connect the crown with the ground level, adding a jew-like ambiance to the structure. Ultimately, the distinctive form caused by the setbacks has even earned 111 the nickname of “Stairway to Heaven,” Led Zeppelin’s most celebrated song. (ctbuh.org contributors).

Apart from the incredible slenderness and height, the building’s next statement feature is its facades. The North and South facades will be made entirely of glass to provide inhabitants with far-reaching, uninterrupted views of the park. The East and West facades, by contrast, will make use of “Golden Age” materials to mimic the richness of classic pre-war buildings (wsp.pb.com contributors). As architect critic Paul Goldberger describes, “111 is a new kind of expression. It picks up on the DNA of New York, not by replication, but in a modern way. It’s not something they could put in Dubai” (Goldberger visit at NYU). A bronze and terracotta cladding will be placed onto three-feet thick concrete walls (Hylton). The beige colour of the terracotta is meant to go well with Steinway’s facade, as well as look back on New York’s traditional terracotta facades such as that of the Woolworth building (Hylton). Five differently glazed terracotta shapes will be stacked to form numerous vertical pilasters. Between each of the pilasters, a bronze wire will climb up the building. The dull-gold wire will be “left unfinished to age gracefully” with time (wsp.pb.com contributors). The glint from the metal, along with the texture from the glazed terracotta, is meant to create a play on light and shadow without taking away from the structure’s strength.

The official website describes the designs aim as to “harmonise the old and new, classic and modern” (111w57.com contributors). It is certain that the multifaceted nature of this design is unlike any of the nearby super-talls, which have, for the most part, embraced an all-around modern look. These richer, less commonly used materials, make it intriguing and appear more expensive. At 111, the materials will be transformed into a bold statement that, although unique on the skyline, will be entirely tailored to New York City.

With a building as tall and as slender as 111, the engineering will be key to keeping the building upright, but more importantly, safe for the people living inside it. Electricity and plumbing have been assigned to Jaros Baum & Bolles, civil engineering to AKRF, and structural engineering to WSP/Parsons Brinckerhoff. The engineers must take into account that the bronze on the East and West facades, although able to withstand water, is not very flexible in large quantities. Bronze is also weaker than steel, and therefore, will require frequent revisions. Although the developers describe the building as one that shines in the sunlight, I am curious as to whether it will still glint after the bronze oxidises. Furthermore, the terracotta will have to be treated carefully around cooler weather to prevent any breakage. The terracotta on the Woolworth building, for example, was thoroughly renovated in 1981 (Prudon and Stockbridge). The building as a whole will also need to be able to withstand seismic forces, and on top of this, occupants should feel nothing. The engineers will ultimately succeed when their “art goes unnoticed” and the contents of the building are “unperturbed by any movement” (wsp.pb.com contributors).

Simon Koster from JDS acknowledges that it is normal for future homeowners to be curious about the tower’s structural system. As a series of apartments, and not just an office building, possible buyers are interested in the safety systems: “we need to have the conversations about the structural damper, shear walls, overall stiffness of the building, movement, sway, slenderness, ” said Koster (wsp.pb.com contributors). An 800 ton tuned mass damper will be suspended at the top of the building along with other mechanical equipment, hidden between the steel frame that forms the crown. Similar to the one in 432 Park, the damper will help balance the horizontal force caused by the wind (wsp.pb.com contributors). Installation will be aided by a 220 feet crane, the tallest crane in NYC history (Fedak).

Additionally, three mechanical floors will be dispersed throughout the structure, and gaps in the crown will “allow wind to pass through and lessen the wind load on the whole” (Capps). No announcement has been made of how window-cleaning will be facilitated and carried out.

The tower’s interior will be designed by Studio Sofield. The firm specialises in luxury real estate, and the head, William Sofield, aims to use his historic knowledge to put a modern spin on pre-war arrangements and furnishing. Of the tower’s 82 floors, 46 will be full-floor apartments, while the others will house amenities or high end retail space (Bindelglass). The apartments will begin on the 25th floor, with the lowest priced at $15.5 million, and the highest estimated to rise above $100 million (Carmiel, Hylton). In Steinway, the interior will be renovated and turned into 14 smaller apartments (Bindelglass). The driving goal is to make all the residences in the tower modern adaptations of the original decor in Steinway (111w57.com contributors).

Although little information about the Steinway apartments has been disclosed, one “typical tower unit plan” reveals that the apartment layouts will be similar to those of the Golden Age, but much larger in scale. Ceilings will charmingly rise up to 15.5 feet, and all rooms will be enlarged to increase the sense of spaciousness (Willis). According to the three bedroom plan, the living, dining, and kitchen area will become one “mega” room located on the North side. The centre of the apartment will have a gallery and private elevator landing, and the South side will accommodate bathrooms and bedrooms. It could be argued that the North side, with its beautiful views of Central Park, will become the “statement” room of every apartment. Large artwork, comfortable arm chairs, and creative lighting will add the warmth needed to turn the place into a true home.

Judging by the few mock-up images uploaded to the official 111 website, the colour palette for the interior design consists primarily of white, beige, brown, and black. Occasional dabs of colour and gold, as well as the natural sunlight that bursts through the North and South windows, thoroughly brighten the rooms. Kitchen cabinets will feature the dark wood typical of pre-war buildings, while the countertops will have a clean, marble finishes. Modern remakes of pre-war upholstered furniture will fill the bedrooms, living rooms, and bathroom. And lastly, the bathrooms will have polished marble floors and grand onyx bathtubs, the ultimate indicator of a luxury.

A proposed entry floor plan for the tower has also been released. It depicts a sheltered porte cohere accessible from 58th Street, a lobby, both a Steinway and Tower elevator vestibule, a conference room, a gallery, the historic Steinway rotunda, and a retail lobby. Transition line here. Interestingly, the most valuable part of each unit is not inside the tower itself. The incredible views, just outside the windows, are the real determinant of each apartment’s price tag. Due to the location and design, the views of Central Park will be the most centred and commanding in the world. As Willis describes in The Logic of Luxury 2.0, “Developers are selling the open space outside the window, not the capacious space within the walls” (Willis).

The official pricing for the units is still unknown. In March of 2016, the developers announced that they would not begin sales until the building reached 800 feet in height (Rosenberg). Nonetheless, a few websites have put out estimations. According to SHoP, the tower has an average price of $5,740 per square foot (Solomont). In 2015, Shulz’s article in 6sqft predicted tower units to range between 13 and 100 million, the maximum price being lower than 220’s $175 million penthouse (Shulz). Units in Steinway will range between 1 and 24 million (Shulz). The offering plan, approved by the New York Attorney General in October of 2016, estimates a $1.45 billion sellout for all 60 apartments (Solomont).

The estimated completion date for the project is 2018. Excavation began in 2015, and the giant crane on the site signals “impending verticality” (Fedak). It appears that little advancement on the construction site has been made, but the the New York Yimby assures that the tower has already risen seven stories (Bindelglass). Because some parts of the tower wrap behind Steinway, progress will not be visible to the public until the tower surpasses the landmark’s roof (Bindelglass). High scaffolding in front of the tower’s lot, and huge image of the tower draped over Steinway also conceals the ongoings of the site from those on the street.

In April of 2016, however, the project was delayed. AmBase, an investor in the 111 project filed a suit against the co-developers for allegedly reducing the firm’s share (Parker). They claimed that the co-developers increased the project cost and then called on AmBase for additional money to cover it (Mashayekhi and Kleimann) And when AmBase did not respond the capital call, the developers supposedly lowered the firm’s share from 60.3% to 45.4%, while maintaining Atlantic 57 LLC’s share, another investor that refused to pay its portion of the capital call (Mashayekhi and Kleimann). AmBase is now requesting its shares back, as well as $104.8 million for the misconduct (Mashayekhi and Kleimann). The developers have turned down all opportunities to comment on the situation (Parker).

Although this could be one reason for the unusually slow construction, another cause may be that the project is simply more expensive than the developers had anticipated. Cost overruns and delays often occur due to errors in design, excessive complexity, and scope changes. Another general concern about the project has been the teams’ use of non-union labor. Although this helps keep the construction costs down, non-union contractors generally have less experience in high rise construction, clarified attorney Barry LePartner (Putzier). Nonetheless, the developers are not turning away from their goal to put up the building. The security guard at 111 has also affirmed that over the past couple of months, the management team and construction workers have been highly active at the site.

With people questioning whether the building will ever go up, and high luxury market uncertainty, only time will tell what happens to the 111 project. Construction is still underway, and if completed, the building will hold the title of being the tallest residential tower in the Western Hemisphere. Judging by the rate at which these super-talls are developing, we can only except for this title to be brief. Nonetheless, Paul Goldberger still finds the project to be “the most elegant” of the structures planned for the area, and claims that it will add a “new visual interest to the skyline that we’ve never had before” (Goldberger). Located in one of the most desirable parts of the city, all while featuring a slender design to minimise intrusiveness, it is no doubt that this building holds a lot of promise, especially for those that can afford to live in it. If ever completed, it will become, as journalist Hylton describes, the most daring skyscrapers of our generation (Hylton).

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