There is something quaintly proletarian about the idea of a group of investment bankers living right above their offices. After 16-hour days running cash-flow models and stuffing spreadsheets with merger statistics, tired associates could gather their Brioni jackets and step into the elevator for the short commute home to the luxury apartments upstairs. It would surely beat taking the train to Westchester.
So when Nicolai Ouroussoff, The New York Times ’ newish architecture critic, described such a scenario in a Sept. 5 article about the changing Manhattan skyline, it sparked a certain amount of intrigue in architecture circles.
Mr. Ouroussoff was referring to the new Goldman Sachs headquarters planned for lower Manhattan, a 40-story, two-million-square-foot tower designed by Harry Cobb of Pei Cobb Freed, scheduled to begin construction early next year. Mr. Ouroussoff described the building as having a residential tower set on top of the building’s base of offices where employees could potentially buy or rent apartments. The idea of people living above one of the most secretive and prestigious investment banks in the world would be revolutionary, to say the least.
But lest Goldman’s heavily worked, heavily paid employees become too excited at the prospect of reducing their commutes, it was too good to be true.
“We do not have any plans for any residential space in the building whatsoever,” said Andrea Raphael, a Goldman spokeswoman. She was not sure how Mr. Ouroussoff got the impression that residences were part of the plan, which is referred to as “Site 26.”
The site is zoned for commercial use only and is intended to house Goldman’s armies of traders in six trading floors at the base of the building, with offices and conference rooms in the floors above. The 742-foot-tall tower is meant to consolidate Goldman’s current corporate space, which is spread between 85 Broad Street, 1 New York Plaza and other locations around the city, in addition to a new tower that the company just constructed in Jersey City.
Mr. Ouroussoff, who left the L.A. Times in June to replace The New York Times ’ outgoing controversial architecture critic, Herbert Muschamp, was out of town and didn’t respond to a request for comment.
Calls to several Manhattan brokers suggested that there had not yet been a run on the ghost apartments, but that if they existed, they might have sold well.
“I don’t think New Yorkers are that concerned about what is in the lower part of the building, as long as it’s not something crazy and disruptive to their daily lives. Let’s face it, at Time Warner you have bomb-sniffing dogs walking through the lobby on a regular basis,” said Leonard Steinberg, a senior vice president at Douglas Elliman. “So I don’t think a bank necessarily would be the worst tenant. In fact, a lot of buildings, co-ops and condos in Manhattan, love to get a bank into their commercial space because it’s a very low-impact traffic situation. I do think the value lies more in the fact that you’d have higher floors with better light. A lot of the Wall Street buildings right now that are residential do have a terrible disadvantage on their lower floors in that they have dreadful light.”
Perhaps Goldman employees had expressed interest in the mysterious units?
Not so, according to Ms. Raphael. “People noticed, but people didn’t overreact to it,” she said, adding that those in the upper reaches of the firm had been slightly surprised to read the startling details about their new building.
The idea of having workers bunking down above their place of work is nothing new. One of modernism’s greatest triumphs was in the idea of worker housing communities, where laborers could live in little villages adjacent to their factories. This idea has recently been embraced by more capitalist ventures, such as the Time Warner Center, which has luxury condos mixed in with a shopping mall and CNN’s corporate offices, as well as the proposed new Bloomberg Media headquarters, which will be topped by a residential tower. And also by the biggest capitalist of all: none other than Donald Trump, who lives in his own flagship commercial building on Fifth Avenue, and who recently told Vanity Fair that his greatest extravagance was “having to only ride an elevator to get to work.”