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Old Posted Oct 16, 2008, 11:12 PM
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The Time To Build Is Now
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Location: Bronx, NYC
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Real Deal New York

Koolhaas defies gravity

Rem Koolhaas makes residential debut with dramatic cantilevered condo

The building at 23 East 22nd Street juts out in seven segments, with the last 10- floor piece hovering 34 feet over its base.

By Steve Cutler

Not all the trend-shattering residential projects in New York are in West Chelsea. The Madison Square Park/Flatiron area, with its traditional buildings, is an unlikely spot for the iconoclastic Dutch designer and architectural philosopher Rem Koolhaas to make his New York City residential debut, but he has done so with a dramatically cantilevered, steel-and-glass condominium high-rise under construction at 23 East 22nd Street.

That it took so long for a significant Koolhaas building to appear in New York is remarkable enough. His approach to urban design was honed by New York City, whose high-rise architecture he explored in "Delirious New York," written in 1978 while he served as a visiting scholar at the Institute for Architecture and Urban Studies.

But the location, it can be argued, is a natural choice for a modern masterpiece by Koolhaas, a celebrant of the chaotic urgency of cities, the manmade "congestion," as he calls it. The new condo comes also at an appropriate time, as chic restaurants and bars snake up Park Avenue South, starting at Union Square Park, to meet the historic buildings of Madison Square Park, like the MetLife tower and Flatiron Building.

Renderings of the Koolhaas building were unveiled early last month, but with little accompanying detail. The developers and co-designers at Koolhaas's Rotterdam-based firm OMA sat down with The Real Deal to describe the building more fully.

The new 25-story condominium on 22nd Street will be attached to One Madison Park, a 60-story tower under construction on 23rd Street, and developed by the same builder, Slazer Enterprises. The designer of One Madison Park is the prolific New York-based architectural firm Cetra/Ruddy.

The Koolhaas building will have its own distinct identity and a separate entrance on 22nd Street, with a long, winding lobby that will connect it with the entrance to the Madison Park tower fronting 23rd Street.

The developers wanted to keep the 22nd Street building relatively low to give a large percentage of the units at the taller tower 360-degree views — a benefit that so far has proved profitable: One Madison Park sold all but one of its 90 units, its penthouse, in preconstruction.

So how would the builders add value to the shorter condominium? After all, Ira Shapiro, who along with Marc Jacobs is co-principal at Slazer, noted that: "It costs you $2,500 a square foot just to build, so how are you going to maintain profits?"

Their solution was to commission Koolhaas for the design, an event in its own right. Despite the large fee such a signature design commands, "It adds a lot of significance," explained Jacobs. "It's like buying a piece of fine art, something very precious."

The 22nd Street tower will have only 18 apartments in its 25 stories.

As daring and complex as OMA's design for the building is, it is eminently buildable, said the developers. "Some architects, at the beginning, just design anything and then, how do you build it? OMA designed a building that allowed us to control the costs and maintain profits at the end — and so far, we're right on budget," said Jacobs.

The partners closed on the lot that would contain One Madison Park in 2006, after years of searching for a viable site for their first ground-up high-rise. Till then, Slazer Enterprises had been doing primarily renovations — vastly smaller jobs.

"We'd been looking for years," recalled Jacobs. "But once we saw the site, we were under contract within 48 hours.

"The area wasn't booming yet in 2006," he said, a reference to the new construction luxury buildings that hadn't arrived yet. Plus, Jacobs said, "we would be the first new construction on the park."

"We went hard on the contract," said Shapiro, real estate-speak for "no money back."

He added, "Our deposit was at full risk. If we didn't close on it, we would lose $3.5 million. A $300 million project for $3.5 million — we took the risk."

Serendipitously, the adjoining narrow lot on 22nd Street, just 35 feet wide, became available soon after. "We knew," said Jacobs, "with an entrance on 22nd Street, we would have a world-class building." That's when the developers started buying up air rights all around the site, upsizing the loan to finance it. "Originally, we could have gone maybe 40 stories, and now we've got up to 60."

The Koolhaas team started work on the 22nd Street high-rise only last January, and created the concept for the building in about a month.

The building's exterior is defined by dramatic cantilevering. The building juts out toward the east in seven segments, with the last 10-floor piece hovering 34 feet over its base. The stacking produces setbacks creating five balconies on the west side of the building.

As it usually goes in the city, the design concept grew out of the need to squeeze every livable square foot out of the ground and air space.

"I think we knew from the beginning that we were going to cantilever," recalled architect Shohei Shigematsu, head of the New York office of OMA. "Otherwise, we couldn't get enough FAR [floor-to-area ratio]. But we studied several options for the form of the cantilever. We saw gradually stepping out as a huge benefit in terms of structure and feasibility of construction technique and benefits in terms of getting light to this building's roof terrace."

Framed in structural concrete, the building has virtually no interior columns. "We wanted to clad it with something that shows the ambivalence of the market," Shigematsu said, "so the façade plays with the duality of being really rough, and yet really refined."

The façade's shiny stainless-steel grid is interrupted by expansive glass sheets and punched windows. The steel "captures the surroundings and colors in a really subtle way, rather than just a blatant metal building that gives a glare," said Shigematsu.

The cantilevering will produce a mix of two- and four-bedroom units, the smallest of which is 1,800 square feet. Starting at $7 million, the units include 15 full-floor residences, two duplexes and a four-story, 6,100-square-foot penthouse with its own roof deck with swimming pool.

The apartments that jut out where the building cantilevers have glass floors — "floor windows," they call them — ranging from eight to 12 feet, in the living room or kitchen. Anyone near the window gets a view straight down onto the street below. "It's a complicated design," said Shapiro, "because you have to heat it properly — so we have heat running in between the two layers of glass, which helps with the condensation."

Ceiling heights range in size throughout the building, soaring to 30 feet on the fourth floor of the penthouse, which has a transparent ceiling in its living room. The thick, clear acrylic bottom of the private swimming pool on the roof of that apartment serves as a giant aquarium-like skylight for its great room.

The penthouse will be listed for $55 million.

Owing to a special arrangement with the Creative Artists Agency (CAA), one of the top three entertainment and sports agencies in Los Angeles, the condo will have an oversized L.A.-version of a ubiquitous amenity in New York condos these days: the screening room.

Visible from the street level, the theater will be an integral part of the entrance on 22nd Street. Take a steeply ascending stairway on the left upon entering the building and there will be a lushly appointed theater just past a bar and lounge area. The stadium seats at the farthest end of the theater space will face the soaring glass front on 22nd Street, until a screen drops down for film showings.

When not used by CAA for private functions, the facility might be opened to the community for lectures or performances, the developers said, and would be available for residents of the two buildings by appointment the rest of the time.

The lobby to the right of the theater on 22nd Street will lead to the 18 apartments overhead and then meander all the way north to the grand lobby of One Madison Park. Other amenities will include a gym, spa and five-star Charlie Trotter restaurant.

Sales and marketing for 23 East 22nd Street will be handled by Wilbur Gonzalez and Wendy Maitland of ID Marketing, a division of Brown Harris Stevens.

Completion is expected in late 2010.

"We have approvals now from the attorney general for floors one to 13," said Shapiro, with a good number of the units already spoken for, though the developers haven't been allowed to issue contracts as of yet. "We have a plan submitted for the top floors to the Building Department," he added, "and when we get approval we'll release those upper floors."
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