By Carter B. Horsley
A joint venture of The New
York Times Company, Forest City Ratner Companies and ING Real
Estate, a wholly owned subsidiary of the ING Group unveiled its
plan December 13, 2001, to erect a 52-story tower across Eighth
Avenue from the Port Authority of New York & New Jersey Bus
The new building will occupy
the east blockfront on the avenue between 40th and 41st Street.
The bus terminal extends from 40th to 42nd Streets.
When completed in 2006, the
building will become the second most important building to be
erected on the avenue after World War II. The most important building
is World Wide Plaza on the former full-block site of Madison Square
Garden between Eighth and Ninth Avenues and 49th and 50th Streets,
which was developed by William Zeckendorf Jr. and World Wide Equities
and which was an extremely significant contributor to the renaissance
of the Midtown West district and Times Square. The office tower
of that project was designed by David Childs of Skidmore, Owings
& Merrill, who designed the mammoth new Bear Stearns &
Co., Inc., tower at 383 Madison Avenue that was completed in 2001.
The office tower at World Wide
Plaza was designed in a post-modern style that was highly reminiscent
of the New York Life Insurance Company building on Madison Square
Park and while it broke no new ground in terms of modern design
it was very elegant and its illuminated pyramid top became a major
new midtown beacon that greatly reinforced the city's long delayed
and controversial efforts to reinvigorate the theater district
and the Times Square area that were both very distressed.
One of the most flamboyant
"modern" architectural firms, Arquitectonica, has designed
a large new tower nearing completion on the southeast corner of
Eighth Avenue and 43rd Street, down the street from the existing
headquarters building of The New York Times at 229 West
43rd Street. Times Square was named after The New York Times
because of its "flat-iron" style building that anchored
the south end of Times Square on the small block between 42nd
and 43rd Streets and Broadway and Seventh Avenue. The media company,
however, moved out of that highly ornate building and sold it
and its new owners reclad it in uninspired fashion and it then
went through a series of different owners interested in it mostly
for its impressive signage potential.
The new tower designed by Arquitectonica
is clad in reflective glass of different colors that perhaps will
be appropriate to the gaudiness of 42nd Street, but like many
of the new Times Square towers it is rather ungainly and not terribly
poetic nor inspiring.
This new tower, however, promises
to be very elegant and, perhaps more importantly, one of the city's
very few "high-tech" buildings, perhaps the most important
since Citicorp Center. The World Trade Center, demolished in the
September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, was, of course, the city's
most visible "high-tech" project, and its loss makes
the new tower all the more important as a spur to leading the
city out of the conservative design morass it has been in for
a generation, a generation marked by an explosion of great architecture
around the world.
In a statement about the project,
Renzo Piano declared that his inspiration for it was the simplicity
and clarity of the city's street grid and that he therefore wanted
it to be simple and transparent: "Towers, as we know, are
often symbols of arrogance and power, but this will not be our
case....The building's basic shape is simple and primary, similar
to the Manhattan grid. It is slender, and does not use mirrored
or tinted glass which render towers mysterious and hermetic subjects.
On the contrary, the use of clear glass combined with a pattern
of ceramic will allow the building to adapt to the colors of the
atmosphere. Blueish after a shower, shimmering red after a sunset."
The building's facade is very
unusual and takes its concept in part from the European tradition
of sun-screens or grills.
The press release for the project
provides the following commentary:
"Much of the building's
double thermal-pane glass curtain wall will be screened by thin
horizontal ceramic tubes placed on a steel framework positioned
one to two feet in front of the glass; in other places, this screen
will be made of metal and glass louvers. In addition to permitting
a high-degree of energy efficiency in heating and cooling the
building, the ceramic tubes will take on the changing color of
the sky during the course of the day as light focuses on it from
different angles. The screen and glass curtain wall will provide
a sense of lightness and transparency. At the top of the building
the screen of tubes will become less dense, and its lace-like
appearance will permit a view of the roof garden foliage....The
curtain wall will be punctuated by three-and-a-half-foot-high
vision panels on each of the occupied floors, affording tenants
spectacular panoramic views of the city."
While the model and elevation
are detailed, they do not clearly establish what this tower will
look like when completed, although the architect's intentional
use of clear glass is intended to make it reflective of different
colors at different times of the day and from different perspectives.
Its slender and excellent proportions, however, would appear to
give it a classic form that will be particularly striking especially
in this neighborhood of ungainly behemoths.
The trellis, or lace-like,
treatment of the facade indeed promise a very cool and handsome
facade, and its exoskeleton should provide interesting shadow
play. Renzo Piano, of course, is the "high-tech" architectural
priest who, a generation ago, gave the world the Centre Georges
Pompidou, or Beaubourg, in Paris, the incredible high-tech structure
that is one of the monuments of 20th Century architecture.
The 52-story building will
have 1.54-million square feet of gross space. It will rise 748
feet from the street to its roof, but the exterior curtain wall
will extend 92 feet higher to 840 feet, and a mast will extend
up to 1,142 feet, considerably higher than the spire across town
atop the Chrysler Building. A story about the project in The
New York Times indicated that the mast will sway in the wind,
although the project's press release makes no mention of that
very interesting and intriguing fact.
This is not a small building,
although it is likely to be eventually hemmed in a bit by two
other nearby developments as the parking lot on the blockfront
directly to the north on the southeast corner of Eighth Avenue
and 42nd Street is likely to be developed and the Port Authority
of New York & New Jersey has long planned for a skyscraper
to be erected above part of its sprawling terminal on the southwest
corner of Eighth Avenue and 42nd Street.
For decades, the Eighth Avenue
corridor around the bus terminal has been one of the city's, and
the country's, most unsavory and unattractive environments, a
terrible gateway for bus travelers. The incredible redevelopment
of 42nd Street and Times Square, after many years of expensive
controversy, has radically changed much of the surrounding area
although the Garment Center and the area near the Lincoln tunnel
This project, especially because
of the prestige of The New York Times, will greatly improve
the ambience around the bus terminal. Indeed, the building will
be set back 17 feet from the building line to open up more pedestrian
space and a low-rise wing on the eastern portion of the site will
have a large garden and will be overlooked by a 350-seat amphitheater
that will be available for use by non-profit civic and community
organizations at least 104 nights a year.
The building will be a commercial
condominium in which The New York Times Company will occupy
about 800,000 square feet on the second through the 28th floors
and Forest City Ratner and ING Real Estate will own about 600,000
square feet on floors 29 through 50 as well as 20,000 square feet
of street-level retail space. The roof garden will also have a
conference facility. About 2,500 employees of the Times will work
in the building, many relocted from its headquarters at 229 West
43rd Street, a sprawling mid-block structure with a handsome pyramid
The newspaper's newsroom will
be on the second through the fourth floors of the tower. The newspaper's
newsroom at 229 West 43rd Street was at one point significantly
expanded into the adjacent Paramount Building when the great Paramount
Theater space was converted, very sadly, to office space.
Given the name of Times Square,
it was very sad that The New York Times Company did not
try to preserve its former landmark at the south end of Times
Square and it is curious that as the most important corporate
presence in the Times Square area that it it did not elect to
become a major tenant in one of the many new towers that have
sprung up in recent years with a higher visibility, but then,
of course, it spent many, many millions building a printing plant
in New Jersey some years ago. Despite such apparent corporate
disregard for the neighborhood in the past, the commitment to
build at this location is very important to the city and laudatory.
Even more praiseworthy is the company's decision to try to forge
an architecturally important new edifice. Had the company shown
such leadership earlier the renaissance of Times Square might
have occured sooner and perhaps with more exciting results, although
there is no denying that the razzle-dazzle signage of Times Square
now is fabulous and has made the architecture of the buildings
less important than some critics, including this one, might have
thought. Curiously, the model and elevations give little indication
of "spectacular" signage but the area has enough now
and perhaps the bus travelers across the street could use a little
respite from the visual cacophony and onslaught of the area.
The New York Times
Company had conducted a design competition for this project and
at one point it appeared that the commission was going to go to
a joint venture of Frank O. Gehry and David Smith and some of
Gehry's design for this site could be seen in the recent major
retrospective on him at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum (see
The City Review article). Those designs
included a tower with a rippling, bifurcated top that were very
intriguing, albeit not as elegant as this design.
While it would be amusing to say "Too
little, too late" about this project, that is not the case.
The city has begun to witness a quite noticeable upgrading in
new architectural projects and while this is not as terribly exciting
and important as Gehry's proposed massive new Guggenheim Museum
project proposed for south of the South Street Seaport in Lower
Manhattan, it nevertheless is a very major and very good new project
for Midtown West, and hopefully it will the two other nearby development
sites will follow its lead with the result that the bus terminal
gateway, one of the city's three major transportation hubs, will
begin to be presentable, palatable and something of which the
city can be proud.
Renzo Piano's expansion plan for The Morgan
Library was approved in early 2002 by the city's Landmarks Preservation
Commission (see The City Review article).
Fox & Fowle received a National Honor Award
for Design from the American Institute of Architects for its design
of the Condé Nast Building at 4 Times Square and they have
been involved in the design of several other major towers in the
Times Square district as well as elsewhere in the city. Unlike
some famous architects, Fox & Fowle does not have a "signature"
style, but it has consistently churned out handsome projects.
Forest City Ratner Companies is an affliate
of Cleveland-based Forest City Enterprises, the largest publicly
traded development company in the United States and it has completed
26 commercial projects in New York City including the MetroTech
center in downtown Brooklyn and it is working on the first phase
of Harlem Center, a $90 million mixed-use project on 125th Street
in Manhttan that is expected to open in the summer of 2002.
ING Group is a global financial institution
that is based in the Netherlands.
In early 2007, tenants began moving into
the tower, which began a major presence on Eighth Avenue but a
rather drab and disappointing one.
The tower's daytime drabness improves considerably
at night when the office lights are visible and it is an considerable
presence on the West Midtown skyline. (2/2/08)