Gary Barnett on How He Chooses His Designers and the 1,250-Foot Starchitect Tower Planned for Broadway and 57th

When Gary Barnett builds, he wants everything to be “the best,” as the Extell exec made clear in our recent

The new skyline, come 2020? 432 Park is at left, One57 is just right of One Bryant Park, and 225 West 57th Street is just to the right of that, then 15 Penn Plaza and, on the farthest right, Hudson Yards. (sbarn/<a href="">Skyscraper Page</a>)
The site, from 58th Street. (Skyscraper Page)
One57 looms in the distance—imagine something even taller.

When Gary Barnett builds, he wants everything to be “the best,” as the Extell exec made clear in our recent profile. Bigger is not always better, but it certainly does not hurt, especially in Manhattan. That is part of the appeal of Mr. Barnett’s One57—not only will the views be dead-center on Central Park, a fact Mr. Barnett keenly brags about, but there are also the bragging rights of having the tallest residential tower in the Western Hemisphere. At 1,005 feet, it beats Frank Gehry’s 8 Spruce Street by more than 100 feet.

But this is New York, and the record will never hold for long, as competitors like the MoMA tower and 432 Park start to rise. But Mr. Barnett has an ace up his sleeve just down the block, a large development site on Broadway running between 57th and 58th streets. The lot, site of the former B.F. Goodrich Building is nearly twice as large as One57’s, and more importantly the tower could be many hundred feet taller, as well, as Mr. Barnett continues to assemble air rights and properties, one of his favorite parts of the business.

For this stratospheric project he also turned to several top-shelf designers, none of whom Extell has ever worked with before.

As reported in our profile, Swiss starchitects Herzog & de Meuron won an invited competition to design a tower that could rise to 1,250 feet or more:

And, according to sources outside the developer, Mr. Barnett has tapped another Pritzker firm, Herzog & de Meuron, of 40 Bond fame, to build a 1,250-foot residential tower at Broadway and 57th Street. Yes, One57 was not enough. When it stops being the best, this project, and so many others, will be ready to carry on the legacy. When asked about the project, Mr. Barnett did not deny it, though he noted that, “Nothing has been settled, not the height, not the architect.” So be it. Perhaps now that Harry Macklowe’s 432 Park is climbing toward 1,395 feet, maybe Mr. Barnett wants to build a 1,400-foot tower.

What there was not room to say was the rest of the impressive firms under consideration: Herzog & de Meuron beat out fellow European Pritzker winners Norman Foster, Richard Rogers and Jean Nouvel and local favorites SHoP, according to our sources. The tower, as specified in the competition brief called for a multi-story base of offices with residences and a hotel on top, a top-of-the-line mixed use tower.

As Mr. Barnett made clear, any of this could change, but it shows a continued commitment to high-end design at the very least. When asked about how he chooses his designers—without making mention of this project in particular—Mr. Barnett gave some insight into how this little competition might have been put together.

“We like to work with the firms we know, we know they can do the work,” Mr. Barnett said walking down 57th Street between the One57 site and the showroom just across Fifth Avenue. “But sometimes we want to give somebody else a chance, we’ve seen their work and we figure, why not give them a shot.”

Mr. Barnett said that quality design “probably pays for itself” but sometimes he does wonder if it is worth it. “I sometimes question our commitment to design,” he said. “These architects, the good ones, they can be difficult sometimes, but the product is definitely better. I look at the guys putting up just total crap, and I wonder if they don’t make the same return.”

Still, Mr. Barnett stressed that since he prefers the creative aspect of development above, or at least in equal measure to, the money, that probably helps explain his continued interest in what his buildings look like. “It’s just more interesting this way, and it certainly helps with the marketing,” he said.

Not every project warrants a starchitect, though. “We’re not going to use them every time, like on an 80/20 project, or some of the hotels, the margins are just too tight, and it doesn’t make sense,” Mr. Barnett said. He cites The Observer‘s complaints about one such project as an example of unreasonable expectations.

So when will this mystery tower rise on Broadway? Mr. Barnett would not say. He certainly has his hands full with four full-scale projects currently in the works. And while Morton Williams has opened a new store at 141 West 57th Street, it has yet to vacate 225 West 57th, the final piece of Mr. Barnett’s colossal puzzle. But as 432 Park begins to rise and One57 continues to sell units at record prices, it seems like only a matter of time before something is underway off of Columbus Circle.

Gary Barnett on How He Chooses His Designers and the 1,250-Foot Starchitect Tower Planned for Broadway and 57th