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The design mess around Ground Zero worsens

JPMorgan Chase has chosen a water-closet design for its new skyscraper

Rendering of planned JPMorgan Chase tower

Rendering of planned JPMorgan Chase skyscraper to replace former Deutsche Bank building just to the south of Ground Zero

By Carter B. Horsley

Sleek, elegant, nice glass curtain walls do not necessarily make a great skyscraper.

Scale is important and so is form.

JPMorgan Chase is one of Lower Manhattan's historic companies. J. P. Morgan, of course, was the financial wizard who not only saved the country from a major financial crisis but also amassed a great art collection that unfortunately was mostly dispersed although part of it resides at The Morgan Library on Madison Avenue between 36th and 37th Streets (see The City Review article). When David Rockefeller was chairman of the Chase Bank he decided to show the company's faith in downtown when it was suffering from a corporate exodus to midtown and the suburbs by erecting a major new skyscraper at 1 Chase Manhattan Plaza designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. That flat-top tower with its gleaming stainless-steel columns and huge plaza, unfortunately ruined the world's most dramatic and important and romantic skyscraper skyline because of its massive bulk and flat top amid the great spindly spires of Lower Manhattan.

The World Trade Center would screw up the skyline even more by knocking it askew and off-balance whereas the Chase tower was at least pretty much in the center of the financial district.

The World Trade Center, of course, was demolished in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (see The City Review article) and will be replaced by the Freedom Tower (see The City Review article) and three other major new office towers, a transportation center, a memorial and a park (see The City Review article). The Freedom Tower, the three other major new office towers and the transportation center will occupy the north and east sides of the 16-acre Ground Zero site, which is across West Street from the World Financial Center at Battery Park City.

The planned JPMorgan Chase tower of about 42 stories will replace the former Deutsche Bank building of about similar size at the southwest corner of Greenwich and Cedar Streets that was seriously damaged in the terrorist attacks and whose demolition has been long delayed and very controversial. The site faces north directly over Cedar Street to Ground Zero.

Given the prominence of its location and the notoriety already attached to the design debacle about the redevelopments at Ground Zero, it is extraordinary that the new JPMorgan Chase tower design by Kohn Pedersen Fox is so awful, especially that firm has recently produced fine designs for residential buildings at One Jackson Square in Greenwich Village and Park Avenue Place in east midtown.

It is ungainly, very ungainly and its designed has earned it the knickname of the "Beer Belly Building."

Rendering shows how church will be tucked beneath cantilevered trading floors

Rendering shows how the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church will be tucked beneath cantilevered trading floors

Very often one wonderful design can make up for several bad ones. Here, however, one terrible design is compounding the problem of the other bad ones and condemning Lower Manhattan to a banal newness.

Moreover, New York State is providing substantial tax relief for the project that has been estimated to be about $240 million, or about the same amount as the bank's sub-net lease ending in 2100 to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey for the 1.3-million-square-foot building. An article by Charles V. Bagli in the June 16, 2007 edition of The New York Times stated that 'State and city officials content that the Chase deal is far more parismonious than the extraordinaryily generous subsidry pakckage given to Goldman Sachs in 2005 to buld a new headquarters at Battery Park City," adding that "critics put the value of that deal, which is now almost universally reviled by public officials, at more than $650 million."

The Goldman Sachs tower, now under construction, is a conventional office building of no particular distinction and no special bulges.

The building has been called "The Tower of Darkness" because of its blocking of the sky over the church. The building's regular floors have about 32,000 square feet but the building bulges out on its north facade up to 165 feet starting at its 12th floor to provide several "trading floors" of various sizes ranging up to about 60,000. The north facade of the "bulge" is slanted outwards while the top of the building is slanted upwards to the south. Renderings indicated that the underside of the cantilevered section will have downward lighting, which presumably might offset its shadows on the church that was severely damaged in the terrorist attacks.

The obvious solution to this mess is to redesign the building with trading floors at the base and the church atop the tower, a little bit closer to heaven. It will be a lot cheaper and such a redesign would most likely look better.

What a topsy-turvy city!

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