If the Manhattan real estate term "prewar" causes your heart rate to increase and your pupils to dilate then you're likely to have been unmoved by much of the new modern glass-tower development we've been chronicling on this page. Well sit up straight and adjust the screen all you old-world classicists because today is your lucky day: we take a closer look at Robert A.M. Stern's 15 Central Park West, a new condominium now rising that actually manages the rare feat of living up to its grand prewar antecedents. After the jump some striking images you may not have seen yet.
If your goal were to produce a luxury apartment house in a traditional mode, one that would complete perhaps the last great piece of the Central Park residential gold coasts, then Robert A.M. Stern would be your man. Few architects are as closely familiar with the great history of New York urbanism as Stern, whose landmark series of books (New York 1880, 1900, 1930, 1960) are the definitive texts on the built city we have inherited. What Stern's 15 CPW, above, has in common with the best, most coveted prewar apartment houses is its careful massing and elegant proportion. There are no mysteries here. The setbacks feel natural and make instant visual sense. We feel there are people behind those windows. We will have an instinctual sense from the street of what is on the inside, even if we're not privileged enough to be inside: a vague geography of warm living rooms, glittering dining rooms, comfy master bedrooms. It's not a black box, but a collection of homes.
The scheme calls for some 200 apartments spread throughout two limestone-clad towers with an open court between. The last tower in New York to be completely clad in limestone was I.M. Pei's Four Seasons Hotel on East 57th Street. This stone will come from the same quarry that supplied the Empire State Building--a bit less yellow than much of the limestone seen now, we're told, with a hint more gray. The shorter tower fits in like a sibling of the older co-ops that ring the park. The taller rear tower acts as a soft transition between the monolithic former Gulf & Western building (now One CPW) and the shorter apartment houses further up the avenue. Below, a closeup of the penthouse crown reveals a debt to Rosario Candela with its loggia and buttress.
The symmetrical stepped setbacks atop the lower tower (below) create the classic penthouses of what architect and author James Sanders calls the Dream City. It's the loving early Hollywood version of New York, of cocktails, black tie, and witty banter we think of from the movies that idealize the city, and that Sanders illuminates in his book and his dazzling web project Celluloid Skyline.
Thankfully, the historicism here isn't the cheap, incomplete, semi-accurate work seen in 1980's Battery Park City, done with a wink and a nod. Instead, this is a fully-realized vision. It is work that both adores the great prewar buildings and at the same time understands deeply what made them tick (and done on a scale and a budget that makes it all worthwhile).
A 70-by-200-foot courtyard and driveway will sit between the two towers. The building's health club and pool will sit directly beneath the courtyard.
The pool underneath the courtyard:
If there is one disappointment here, it may be the retail portion along Broadway, where this rendering shows a flat and rather blank wall of mega shopping. Something on the more intimate scale of Madison Avenue boutiques would have been preferable, but the bland malling of Manhattan marches on. Unfortunately, large-scale retail was likely a necessary and unavoidable financial consideration.
Overall this is a skillfully designed love letter to New York. All that limestone will be glorious opposite the park. In another location we might think this the wrong approach, but given the importance of this site and given the company along the park, all this prewar DNA strikes us as the right solution.
[It was recently reported by the New York Times among others that hedge fund manager Daniel S. Loeb of Third Point LLC has purchased the 10-bedroom 10,700 square-foot penthouse for $45 million. Other notable residents will include the recording artist Sting and the actor Denzel Washington.]