“Of course, with many building sites accidents do happen, but this site–something’s going on with the energies around it, it’s very unbalanced.”
So decreed Eliza Arakelian, an expert in the ancient Chinese folk science known as feng shui, the study of how mysterious energies in the material world influence human destiny. She was standing in the shadow of 4 Times Square, site of the July 21 scaffolding collapse, which killed an 85-year-old lady in a neighboring hotel.
Following a series of “preliminary tests and readings,” Ms. Arakelian arrived at the nearby Times Square Brewery restaurant. She was looking up at the large British Airways Concorde airplane attached to the top of the Brewery. She didn’t like that thing one bit, especially considering its effect on the Condé Nast Building.
“It’s uncanny,” Ms. Arakelian said, pointing to the needle protruding from the huge model airplane. “It almost points right at the accident site. Amazing!”
Sure enough, if you took an imaginary line from the plane’s nose and traveled to 4 Times Square, you’d wind up pretty darn close to the accident that shut down midtown. Coincidence?
In fact, the recent accident was only the latest in a mysterious spate of mishaps for the 48-story building that is to be the future home of Condé Nast Publications, the Skadden, Arps law firm and possibly the National Basketball Association. Weeks before the scaffolding collapsed, a 43-year-old carpenter was crushed to death in an elevator shaft. And this past January, a crane hoisting several tons of granite crashed into a building across the street. All of which leads the casual observer to wonder if there are perhaps mysterious forces at work.
Another feng shui expert, Carol Meltzer, who trained with a Hong Kong master for 25 years, said the building’s most recent mishaps stem from an unfortunate combination of signs. The building broke ground in 1996, which according to feng shui symbolism is the year of fire. By the system, 1998 would be the year of earth. And July, the month during which the most recent, and most devastating, accident took place, is symbolized by wood. And finally, 4, the number in the building’s address, represents fire. The highly combustible collection of symbols, according to Ms. Meltzer, left the building virtually begging for disaster.
Ms. Arakelian, who in addition to her work as a feng shui consultant serves as a “wellness and success coach,” pointed to the corners of the surrounding buildings, all of which seem to cut directly into 4 Times Square.
“Everywhere, all around there is cutting chi , which comes from the corners of these buildings. So it’s like being in the middle, attacked by all these cutting energies,” she said, making a sweeping gesture with her hand. Believers in feng shui place particular emphasis on sharp edges, which are believed to zap negative energy in the direction of the objects at which they’re pointed. Looking at the multitude of sharp edges pointing at 4 Times Square, Ms. Arakelian asked, “How could you have a chance?”
The building’s ziggurat design may also pose major feng shui problems. “Imagine part of your bed is missing and your legs are hanging off the bed,” Ms. Arakelian said. “How would that make you feel? Can you sleep O.K.? No. That’s what it’s like. They’ve created energies, but they have no place to go. And this is what happens.”
Ms. Arakelian, it should be noted here, also believes she is the reincarnation of Marie Antoinette. She was particularly distressed by the number 4 in the building’s address. “Four! The Chinese wouldn’t touch a building with the number 4 in its address,” she said. “The number 4 when you say it in Cantonese sounds like ‘die.’ And when you write it out in the Chinese, the characters mean ‘clouds diminishing the brightness of the sun.'”
You’d think that the designers of such an environmentally friendly building–it will run partially on solar power and have a branch of the Rainforest Cafe in its lobby–would be in tune with the whole feng shui thing. But no.
“There are so many forces when you’re designing a building in New York or in any urban center like this which are beyond your control that, as far as impact on the architecture is concerned, I think it would be quite unlikely that we would hire someone like that,” said Bruce Fowle, one of the principals of the building’s architecture firm, Fox & Fowle Architects P.C. But he added, “In terms of elevating the number of the building and some of the more spiritual aspects, it’s certainly something that we would consider in the future.”
Told that two feng shui experts had reviewed the site, the building’s developer, Douglas Durst, said, “Let me guess–it wasn’t good.” As for the British Airways model, he said, “The jet wasn’t there when we designed the building, so we could not have known.” As for the cutting chi ? “I’m not familiar with that concept,” said Mr. Durst.
Ms. Arakelian offered the following tips for the developer: “Well, they should certainly start thinking about it now, because in the next two weeks, we’re coming to a very auspicious date: Aug. 8, 1998. Perhaps the company can do something to change their luck, form a different corporation, maybe change the names and maybe hire a feng shui master or masters –they’re going to need more than one–and start anew.” She took a dramatic pause and said, “Before it’s too late.”
Did Rudy Do a Favor for 1501 Broadway?
Contrary to what you may have heard, Times Square didn’t close down recently. Contrary to what you may have seen in those newspaper maps, Times Square was not deserted. It turns out that 1501 Broadway, on the west side of the square between 43rd and 44th streets and thus in the thick of the debris zone as portrayed by those maps, stayed open for the bulk of the week after the accident. The police shut down its neighbors on both sides.
Might this be Mayor Giuliani’s favorite Times Square building?
The building hosts the headquarters of the New York City Off-Track Betting Corporation as well as the ticket agents for most of the Broadway theaters. The consulate of the Dominican Republic, which receives the relatives of many Hispanic voters in the city, is on the fourth floor.
Then, too, there’s Room 501, the consulting firm of Suri Kasirer, who is wife of the Mayor’s chief of staff, Bruce Teitelbaum.
No one else on the block was allowed to open. The Carvel shop six feet to the south was closed, as was 44th Street Cameras & Electronics to the north. “The cops chased us out on Tuesday and we couldn’t come back,” said Steve Naim, the electronics store’s owner.
The building managers were working closely with the police. According to a memo that managing agent Newmark & Company Real Estate Inc. distributed to tenants, “The NY City Police Department has graciously allowed us to open.…The one proviso is that tenants with windowed offices facing Broadway or 43rd Street are prohibited from using those offices.”
According to four workers in the building, the cops were telling passers-by: “1501 only.” The police also warned that it would be shutting the building if anyone was spotted in a window office.
Jeffrey Gural, Newmark’s president, said he was told by the police that “it was a safe course of action” to open offices there. Mr. Gural skirted around the question of whether Newmark had asked to keep the building open–”we work with the police and follow their instructions”–but figures that tenants may have made requests to the authorities. “I assume some did,” he said.
Most in the building had not been told why 1501 alone was open on the block, but that didn’t stop them from speculating. “We’re a powerful building,” said Jason Hayer, 22, of Nervous Inc., a record label that rents Room 1314B. “There’s a lot of power here … All the politicians go to OTB.” Allen Gutterman, a senior vice president of marketing at OTB, said, “I know of no request. We were all surprised when we moved back in.”
Show-biz people figured that they may have had some influence at some level. Darcy Jensen of Dodger Productions noted that, with most of the major ticket outlets and many productions headquartered in the building, “if they had [closed the building], Broadway could shut down.”
Then there’s Ms. Kasirer. Others in the building have whispered that she had made a call to the Office of Emergency Management to maintain access to her floor. At press time, she had not returned a call for comment, nor had the Mayor’s press office.