Starchitecture Is Actually Worth the Money

gehry e1322495054939 Starchitecture Is Actually Worth the Money

New York by Frank Gehry at 8 Spruce Street (Photo from NYC Loves NYC)

Once, living in a building with celebrity residents or prewar pedigree was the goal of every nouveau riche New Yorker. Trump International, anyone? Yes, please, 740 Park.

Now upwardly mobile denizens of our great city have slightly different aspirations: starchitect developments; that is, buildings designed by jet-setting, Pritzker-prize winning  architectural wizards, typically of the old guard variety. While some have suggested that the starchitect craze is the result of pure unadulterated vanity, it turns out that buildings have made a pretty penny since they began to sprout up a decade ago, Crain’s reports.

Highrises designed by the likes of Frank Gehry, Richard Meier and Jean Nouvel, however, don’t come cheap and require costly initial investments. In addition to keeping the precious architects content with a constant supply of imported mineral water and diamond encrusted drafting templates, the triple-premium materials and fixtures used in these buildings come with steep price tags.

While naysayers initially panned the starchitect craze as a pre-crash pipe dream incompatible with post-recession market realities, buildings like Gehry’s “New York” at 8 Spruce Street have actually been doing remarkably well during the downtown, according to Crain’s.

Frank Gehry’s 76-story rental just south of the Brooklyn Bridge, built by Forest City Ratner, has attracted much critical acclaim. And it’s filling up quite nicely, despite studio rents that typically top $3,000, according to Susi Yu, Forest City’s senior vice president, retail development.

Similarly, everybody’s favorite West Village condo, Superior Ink, has been selling big and legitimizing the starchitect craze. Designed by Robert A.M. Stern, the 17-story building was an investment, to say the least.

Its cost per square foot of construction made the project “one of the most expensive buildings we’ve built,” said Bruce A. Beal Jr., an executive vice president of Related Companies, Superior Ink’s developer. On the other hand, sales for tower units, which started well before construction was completed in 2007, “exceeded our expectations,” he said.

Interest is still high. One buyer who bought an apartment for $25 million in 2009, resold it a year later for $31.5 million, which worked out to a whopping $4,983 per square foot.

Crain’s looks at the beloved 40 Bond and how the phenomenon has even spread to the outer boroughs, where Richard Meier’s On Prospect Park has, after some initial hiccups, become a smash success. The takeaway is clear: the post-boom era demands better architecture, not worse. Lest we slide back into the old reality of junkbox built at cut rates, the city will not only be aesthetically but economically worse off.

eknutsen@observer.com