Even if you’ve never set foot in Manhattan, you can name some of its most notable buildings: the Empire State, the Chrysler, the Flatiron, 30 Rockefeller Plaza. Everyone knows about the Guggenheim’s great spiral and Grand Central’s breathtaking ceiling, and everyone knows what Carnegie Hall means-even if they’ve never been there. And so, to practice architecture in New York is to paint on one of our largest canvases. To triumph, there is to pass into the realm of American mythology.
If ever a building felt destined for iconic status, One Vanderbilt certainly qualifies. Located next-door to Grand Central Terminal, between 42nd and 43rd streets, the building’s address alone conjures expectation. As if that’s not enough, One Vanderbilt also promises to be one of the city’s tallest structures, a simple asymmetric silhouette towering high above Midtown Manhattan, visible for miles and miles.
Once completed [in 2020 if all goes to plan], One Vanderbilt will rise 1,401 feet, making it one of the 30 tallest buildings in the world. Rising 58 floors, the building will house 1.7 million square feet of prime office space, boasting top LEED-certified construction, dramatic light-filled interiors, and perhaps the city’s easiest commute, with the building’s tenants practically an elevator ride away from their suburban-bound trains.
The office space will undoubtedly become some of the most desired in New York. Rumors have already been floated that J.P. Morgan may relocate its headquarters to the skyscraper. The public will enjoy [likely paid] access to an indoor/outdoor observation deck, while the building’s well-heeled tenants will be able to close deals at the skyscraper’s exclusive Skybar, a cocktail lounge perched 900 feet above the city.
Groundbreaking for the project occurred in October 2016, after fifteen long years of political wrangling, zoning fights, and disputes over air rights. The skyscraper replaces five historical but less-than-remarkable buildings [tenants included a sporting goods store and a TGI Friday’s], held over from an era when the neighborhood was known as Terminal City.
Perhaps thanks to such a prolonged negotiation process, the building that has emerged is uncommonly accommodating, context-considerate, and planningminded. While its form is certainly beautiful, its aesthetics pale in comparison to the genius of the project’s masterful concessions. Rather than merely towering over its Grand Central neighbor, One Vanderbilt almost defers to it, set ten feet back from the corner of 42nd and Vanderbilt Avenue. Its lower floors appear carved out, creating as much space around the famed train station as possible. The western side of the building, once bookended by blocky behemoths, will be showcased by comparatively mindful glass atria.
“It’s a great thrill to think about what will emerge on this site, but at the same time it’s a great responsibility,” said Jamie von Klemperer, President of Kohn Pederson Fox and the project’s lead designer. This acknowledged balance between corporate ambition and civic responsibility seems to be the project’s [very New Yorker] aim, and it’s clear that compromises have been made to allow the building to climb so high. It’s luxury up top, public good down below.
While the building will ultimately cost more than $3 billion, the figure includes $220 million in public improvements. The project will convert a section of Vanderbilt Avenue into a pedestrian plaza and will completely overhaul subway access, helping to relieve congestion in Grand Central’s crowded transfer area. All told, the project will represent one of the largest private contributions to the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s infrastructure.
Building ambitiously in New York often requires an uncommon amount of maneuvering and deal-making. Every big move will inevitably draw some measure of complaint in a city with so many competing interests and desires. However, One Vanderbilt’s greatest accomplishment may be its ability to appease [if not please] all parties. Its effect on the public transit system will become even more essential in 2022 when a long-awaited extension of the Long Island Rail Road is expected to send tens of thousands of additional commuters through Grand Central’s halls.
New York seems to be enjoying a supertall renaissance, with at least ten buildings currently proposed or under construction topping out at over 1,000 feet. If the people behind these new icons hope to achieve true greatness, they won’t simply focus on building tall. They’ll look to One Vanderbilt for what it manages to accomplish at its ground floor.
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