Daniel Libeskind is renowned for his way with words. His orations have charmed competition juries, and in a 2003 profile, critic Paul Goldberger wrote, “For an architect who loves to talk, Libeskind says very little about his buildings that could be considered analytical.”
Not so for the project he simply calls his “New York tower,” a colossus that would reach more than 900 feet above Madison Square Park. “There is no spiel,” he said in a telephone interview this afternoon. “This is not a building about a shape or a facade. It’s really a building about how New York goes forward, how to build and live in a high-density Manhattan.”
The tower, which would be the city’s tallest residential structure, would rise adjacent to the iconic clock tower of the old Met Life building. In a city with dwindling room to build—and a growing need for green amenities—Libeskind said the project offers a park-in-the-sky model for the future, with its bands of leafy terraces that ascend the building.
Before the designs were even revealed—they are still technically under wraps, even though a number of renderings appear in the architect’s new monograph, a selection of which are posted on the AN blog—considerable debate surrounded the building’s relationship to the clock tower. Libeskind said the cut-outs for the terraces, along with the building’s overall massing and location, would pay special deference to the structure’s historic neighbor.
Set back from Madison Avenue, the Libeskind building actually rises atop the back half of the Met Life Building Annex, a 14-story structure next to the clock tower that would remain in use as a commercial building. Unlike the clock tower, the annex is not a city landmark, so is not subject to review by the Landmarks Preservation Commission. Libeskind added that the project is being designed as-of-right, and will not need any special zoning changes.
While the architect said he was happy to be building in a dynamic part of the city (see: Cetra/Ruddy and OMA’s One Madison Park), it was the neighborhood’s grand past that inspired the tower, with its rounded edges nodding to the nearby Flatiron Building, and the terraces serving as an extension of the park below. “That is the real context,” he said. “It is about creating a 21st-century park.”
“This is a building for the city’s future,” Libeskind added, shrugging off concerns about working in these recessionary times. “We have a long way to go still, but we think this contributes in a whole new way.”