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Frank O. Gehry's Lower Manhattan Skyscraper

Gehry's downtown tower

Model of planned mixed-use tower designed by Frank O. Gehry for Forest City Rattner for Lower Manhattan near City Hall Park and the Brooklyn Bridge entrance

By Carter B. Horsley

One of the most eagerly anticipated and long awaited designs in the city's history, the proposed, 74-story skyscraper planned by Forest City Rattner at 8 Spruce Street in Lower Manhattan was unveiled in late summer of 2006 and will have a shimmering titanium façade and hundreds of setbacks.

The tower, which is located one block south of the Manhattan entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge and half a block east of City Hall Park, will have five major "wedding cake" setbacks and the others are stepped within each section in an asymmetrical fashion. The "minor" setbacks are quite shallow, but will give the tower a very complex appearance.

Furthermore, the "major" setbacks will flare outwards slightly and the tower's verticality is not sheer, but subtly curved with minimal asymmetrical undulations.

The 876-foot-high tower, which will be taller than the 792-foot-high Woolworth Building on the other side of City Hall Park, will contain 666 rental and condominium apartments. It promises to be the city's most glistening tower, a serious rival to the Chrysler Building stainless-steel top and spire.

The design by Frank O. Gehry, who designed the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao, Spain that was the most celebrated building on the last quarter century, was revealed in an article by Nicholas Ourossoff in an edition of the Arts & Leisure section of The New York Times.

Mr. Ouroussoff's article, "Skyline for Sale," noted that Mr. Gehry created more than 70 designs over a two-year-period for the tower, concluding that "The result is an unusually tough design." "The massing is a response to the bulky McKim, Mead & White municipal building to the north and the 1913 Woolworth Building, its nearest competitor," Mr. Ouroussoff remarked, added that "the titanium cladding will be rippled, as though etched by rivulets of water. As the light moves across the surface, the waves will seem to change form, giving the impression that the tower is quivering. Inside the apartments, those curves will be repeated."

Mr. Gehry had recently unveiled his design for the huge Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn for Forest City Rattner, a proposal that has encountered considerable community opposition because, in part, it is much bigger, though shorter. That project is focused on a new sports area and its tall tower resembles shifting glass shards and is not as graceful as Gehry's Lower Manhattan tower.

Mr. Ouroussoff's article included 12 photographs of models or renderings designed by Mr. Gehry for the Lower Manhattan project and although the article and caption did not specifically state that the model shown at the right is the "finalized" version it was only one of two large photographs and from the arrangement of the pictures it seemed to be the last chronologically.

One poster at, Ablarc, commented about the designs shown in Mr. Ourossoff's article that "they're pretty much all good. Build them all; sprinkle them about the city."

The overall plan of the building is not asymmetrical, but despite its nuanced irregularities it generally "reads" as a rectilinear tower "wrapped" in grids of punched windows with no indication of mechanical floors.

Mr. Gehry is the architect also of the ITC Corporation's new mid-rise headquarters, now hearing completion on West Street near the Chelsea Piers and his white-glass-clad design there conjures a fleet of sailboats in a very close race and is one of the most beautiful in the city. It is a white-glass-clad building whose facades resemble sails and it is very, very impressive and beautiful although only a medium-size building. Gehry's design for the Bilbao museum has been the most acclaimed and influential design in recent years. He designed a somewhat similar design for the same museum for a site south of the South Street Seaport along the East River a few years ago, but the museum unfortunately abandoned the project recently because of funding concerns.

The designs of three of the four towers that will accompany the Freedom Tower at Ground Zero was finally unveiled a few weeks after the unveiling of this Gehry tower (see The City Review article) and it appears that this tower will outclass them even though it will be shorter.

Gehry's tower will have a new elementary public school and some facilities and some facilities for the NYU Downtown Hospital, which is adjacent to the large vacant site.

The building will have a garage, a bicycle room, resident's cellar storage and the first floor will contain two residential lobbies, a school lobby, a medical offices' lobby, a cafeteria and retail space. The second through the fourth floors will contain classrooms, a library and a gymnasium for the school. The fifth floor will have medical offices as an accessory to the hospital. The sixth floor will be mechanical and the seventh floor will have an accessory gym, an exterior pool, and two community rooms.

Floors 8 through 14 will have 19 apartments each. Floors 15 through 22 will have 18 apartments each. Floors 23 through 35 will have 14 apartments each. The 36th floor will be mechanical.

Floors 37 through 43 will have 8 apartments each. The 44th floor will have a few apartments, an accessory gym and a community room. Floors 45 through 48 will have 7 apartments each. Floors 49 through 70 will have five apartments each. Floors 71 and 72 will have two apartments and the lower third of a triplex the rest of which are on the 73rd and 74th floors.

If floors 23 through 43 are rental there would be a total of 505 rental units and if floors 45 through 74 are condominiums there would be 161 condominium apartments.

Earlier this year, some plans for the project were "disapproved" by the Buildings Department, but the application process was completed May 2, 2006.

The building's "block" number is 100. Its "lot" number is "1."

The tower originally was also intended to contain expansion facilities for Pace University, which has buildings in the immediate vicinity, but that institution withdrew from the plan.

Unlike Forest City Rattner's Atlantic Yards project in Brooklyn, its Manhattan project has been far less controversial.

In an article in the Downtown Express, Ronda Kaysen noted that at a public meeting about the building held in September, 2006, some community activists voiced concerns over it. "'I am absolutely appalled that a community board that was against a 12-story building in Tribeca has allowed a 75-story building on a narrow street,' said Phylis Salom, a resident of nearby Southbridge Towers, referring to a recent fight by Community Board 1 to reduce the height on a waterfront development in North Tribeca. 'Tribeca is a community of millionaires and we're middle class people. We have been walked over and stepped on… it is immoral that this real estate company is destroying our neighborhood.' Unlike the Tribeca development, which required public approval, the Beekman tower fits within the neighborhood's zoning laws and involved no public review process....An 11,000 sq. ft. public plaza, designed by Gehry, separates the building's Nassau St. facade from two residential buildings at 140 and 150 Nassau St. Gehry will also design a second, smaller plaza on William St., used mainly for school children headed to a new 630-seat public school in the lower levels of the tower."

The building will tbe topped off in winter 2008, after which point the curtain wall will envelope the steel-and-concrete structure. The tower is scheduled to be complete by mid-2009. The building will also have hospital-controlled, public parking in the building's basement, and will have ground-floor retail spaces.

This new tower is almost conservative by Gehry's standards and several of his earlier designs for the site involved twisted forms with more abrupt vertical breaks. This design, however, would appear to be the best and is a vast improvement over such ungainly Lower Manhattan skyline intrusions as 60 Wall Street and One Chase Manhattan Plaza. Its shimmering facade, moreover, will be a strong reminder of the shimmering and now lost twin towers of the World Trade Center.

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