About six years ago, the supertall residential tower 432 Park Avenue offered rich buyers something other buildings could not: a chance to live atop Manhattan’s famed skyline and far above their millions of fellow New Yorkers below.
But some of the hugely wealthy residents who have since moved into the 1,396ft structure have reportedly found that living in the western hemisphere’s “tallest residential tower” had unsettling drawbacks – potentially attributable to its great height.
According to the New York Times, some of 432 Park’s residents are sparring with its developers over issues such as “millions of dollars of water damage from plumbing and mechanical issues; frequent elevator malfunctions; and walls that creak like the galley of a ship”. This building, which opponents had compared to a “middle finger” to the rest of the city due to its controversial height, seemed to now be giving some of its own residents the same cheeky gesture.
“I was convinced it would be the best building in New York,” Sarina Abramovich, an early 432 Park resident, complained to the newspaper. “They’re still billing it as God’s gift to the world, and it’s not.”
Abramovich and her husband, described as “retired business owners” in the oil and gas industry, bought a 3,500-sq-ft apartment there for almost $17m in 2016, as a “secondary home” close to their adult children. When Abramovich was poised to move in, she said, neither the building nor apartment were finished.
“They put me in a freight elevator surrounded by steel plates and plywood, with a hard-hat operator,” she reportedly remarked of 432 Park, the design of which was inspired by a designer trash can. “That’s how I went up to my hoity-toity apartment before closing.” The problems worsened, and included “a number of floods”. In one instance, water rushed into Abramovich’s apartment from several floors above, allegedly resulting in some $500,000 in damage.
There’s also “wind sway”. A 1,000ft building may sway several inches on a day with normal winds. On days with 50mph wind, such a tower may move approximately six inches. In the rare event of 100mph gusts, this height structure could move up to two feet, the New York Times reported.
New York City’s Empire State Building, with a roof height of 1,250ft, is supposed to move approximately one inch in rapid winds, per Discovery. Chicago’s Willis Tower, with a roof height of 1,450ft, has an average sway of six inches from its “true center”, but is designed to move a maximum of three feet.
However, wind sway is especially pronounced in supertall buildings that are also super-skinny – they are often referred to as pencil towers. For 432 Park, the height-to-width ratio is reportedly 15:1. The property website Curbed New York explained that “to put that in perspective, if you place a standard ruler on its end, it has a ratio of 12:1.” Another way: the Empire State Building is 424ft across, whereas 432 Park stretches slightly more than 90ft across.
In a statement Lendlease, the construction manager, said: “As a leading builder in the industry, Lendlease is always committed to delivering its projects safely and in accordance with the highest specified standards. We have been in contact with our client regarding some comments from tenants, which we are currently evaluating. We cannot elaborate at this time since we are in the midst of this review.”
One of 432 Park’s developers, CIM Group, said in a statement to the Times that it’s “a successfully designed, constructed and virtually sold-out project … Like all new construction, there were maintenance and close-out items during that period.”
Complaints about perils of living in a luxurious supertall building on a stretch of similarly luxurious supertall buildings known as “Billionaire’s Row”, feels like the apex of rich people problems. Given the deadly pandemic and ongoing economic devastation in the rest of New York, reaction to the Times article has included gleeful schadenfreude and sombre told-you-sos by many citizens.
Twitter user @eddiemajor commented: “432 Park Avenue is the most obnoxious building in all of Manhattan and this story warmed my heart.”
One reader commented on the Times’ website: “I was about to complain that the Times never published any feel good stories and then y’all come through with this little gem. Thanks for making my morning!”
Abramovich herself admitted to the Times that the woes of billionaires wouldn’t spur significant sympathy, but came forward as a matter of principle, commenting: “Everything here was camouflage … If I knew then what I know now, I would have never bought.”
Others see a more serious side to the story.
“We’ve been following the safety concerns of supertalls for a long time,” Sean Khorsandi, executive director of the preservation group Landmark West!, told the Guardian. “I was in architecture school on 9/11. We watched the towers fall. There were all sorts of symposiums and public statements that we’re never going to build [that] tall again” he said. “All we’ve done in the 20 years since is build even taller.”
Architect Stephen B Jacobs, president and founder of Stephen B Jacobs Group PC has worked on a wide variety of projects since starting his firm in 1967 – ranging from historic preservation to large-scale residential design. Some have exceeded 50 storeys and his firm is presently working on a slender, 800ft building on Manhattan’s East Side that has spurred its own controversies over height.
Although Jacobs is no stranger to height, he said of supertalls: “They’re totally irrational.”
Jacobs, who believes that these buildings were conceived to create the experience of “living up in the sky, for the richest” of the one-percenters, said: “I’m not really that interested in serving that market. I think the challenges that we have that we should be focusing on is how we provide housing for the vast majority of people that really need it.
“The whole purpose here is to be the tallest,” Jacobs continued. “I don’t necessarily want to put a Freudian spin on that – but people have.”