“The project is now 10 years old, it’s time to build it!”
That was Andre Terzibachian’s response when The Observer emailed him about 400 Park Avenue South on Friday. A partner at Atelier Christian de Portzamparc, Mr. Terzibachian is responsible for many of the firm’s projects in New York, where the Pritzker Prize-winning Frenchman has had a number of surprising successes: the jagged LVMH North American headquarters on 57th Street; the skyline-redefining, outrageously priced One57 now rising a few blocks to the west; and beyond that, abutting the Hudson River, a daring complex of five towers at Riverside South.
All the while, 400 Park Avenue South was in the works the middle of Manhattan as a small-time developer tried, and eventually failed, to get an ambitious project off the ground. (Oddly enough, it is the only of Mr. de Portzamparc’s projects not somewhere on 57th Street.) Construction was set to begin after years of development and zoning approvals. Then the recession hit. In December, the site was sold to a partnership of two of the nation’s biggest builders, Toll Brothers and Sam Zell’s Equity Residential. It was not clear at the time what the fate of this crystalline castle would be, but it turns out Mr. de Portzamparc will be planting another shard in the New York skyline after all.
On February 3, Handel Architects filed a slew of new construction documents for a 42-story residential tower at 400 Park Avenue South with the Department of Buildings. Handel had been the architect of record for de Portzamparc’s earlier project (most out-of-town designers must team up with a local firm to file construction documents on its behalf), so it seemed promising that the eagerly anticipated tower would soon rise. David Von Spreckelsen, a senior vice president at Toll and head of its New York office, confirmed that Mr. de Portzamparc was indeed on board for the project. He is still designing the facade, as had originally been planned, a design that has not changed much, for reasons both aesthetic and practical.
The new team did not want a “Joe Blow building,” as Mr. Von Spreckelsen put it. But there was also the fact that the previous developers went to so much trouble getting their project designed and then approved by the city. To switch architects and do it all over again would probably have been more expensive than simply adopting Mr. de Portzamparc’s progressive designs for the tower at the corner of 28th Street. “If we wanted to abandon that design, we could have actually built something much taller, but it was a sort of pencil building going straight up,” Mr. Von Spreckelsen said. “At the end of the day, it was too inefficient, because too much of it would have been taken up by the core. You weren’t going to have the living space on the floors.”
There will be one small alteration to the design, using a different type of glass that offers greater energy efficiency, a nod to the recently passed green building codes, but otherwise the tower will look almost exactly the same.
Keeping the same architects also meant the project could start almost immediately. “The documents were (almost completely) ready since we were supposed to deposit the building permit a few years ago, so we were able with Handel to get things done rapidly,” Mr. Terzibachian wrote in his email. Groundbreaking is set to commence in May, Mr. Von Spreckelsen said, with an expected completion by the end of 2014.
Mr. Von Spreckelsen said Toll Brothers was especially excited about the project because of the unique arrangement it had reached with Equity Residential, whereby the latter is building rentals on the bottom half of the building while the former builds condos on the 20 floors on top. “They’re taking the first 22 floors, so our condo units are starting at 250 feet in the air, so every unit has a pretty great view,” Mr. Von Spreckelsen said.
And the unique design should appeal not only to those living inside the building.
“It’s obviously really going to change the way Park Avenue South looks,” Mr. Von Spreckelsen said. “I know that it’s one of Christian’s favorite buildings he’s ever designed, and I know the city administration loves it, so I think it’s going to be great for everyone.”