André Terzibachian, a de Portzamparc principal, said the greatest challenge for the designers was determining how to take this unusual lot, along with the strict setbacks mandated by the zoning code, and craft it into an elegant, cohesive tower. The expense of such a tall building, to say nothing of the exacting expectations of Barnett, meant no wasted space or room for architectural flourish. Still, De Portzamparc managed to work some in, curving the setbacks to create a cascading effect, which is further heightened by alternating columns of light and dark glass. “It expresses New York’s vertical energy,” Terzibachian said.
The east and west facades are more like cuts than cascades—in part because the vertical reflections had to be masked in the crook of the L. The designers created what they call a semi-abstracted “Klimt” pattern, which employs a third type of glass to create a surface
Still, even the fanciest foreign architecture cannot please everyone, though there are some who it must. At the Riverside Center certification hearing, City Planning Commission Chair Amanda Burden expressed great concern that Barnett is hueing to Riverside South’s previously established 12 percent affordability requirement, as opposed to the 20 percent the Bloomberg administration has essentially mandated for large-scale development projects. "We expect to come to an agreement on that," Burden said.
The local community board, which will vote on the project by the end of July, also maintains the project is too large and cloistered, with 3.2 acres of open space meant more for residents of the complex than their neighbors. Extell did a fair amount of outreach going in, repeatedly meeting with the community about the project and even reducing the height of the two western towers by at least a dozen stories each, though their western counterparts each creeped up a few floors and all the towers were bulked up to compensate.
It is these sorts of negotiations, tradeoffs, and challenges that de Portzamparc finds thrilling. "New York has always been a source of inspiration," Terzibachian said. "His theories about the open block were very much informed by New York and his trips here when he was a student."
The firm has not exactly been idle in the city, with some 10 projects that nearly came to fruition, though none ever crossed the threshold into the public realm. Terzibachian said that de Portzamparc has also kept a tight rein on the firm, selectively choosing his work for maximum creative control and to avoid corporatism. And while this approach may not achieve the most buildings, it keeps the firm’s roughly 80 employees busy, even during the downturn. "We have had no layoffs," Terzibachian said. Even the failed projects can lead to work, as one, a jagged condo tower on Park Avenue South, was the catalyst for the firm’s introduction to Extell, as the developer of that project recommended the firm. Its first task was a series of feasibility studies for Carnegie 57 in 2006.
Barnett demurs at the suggestion that brand-name architecture is a new approach for his firm, which has worked in the past with the likes of Kostas Kondylis, Lucien Legrange, Cetra/Ruddy, and Cook + Fox. “We seek out the right architect and the right aesthetic for each project,” he said. Still, with more high-profile projects underway, such as SOM’s Gem Tower in the Diamond District and KPF’s World Commerce Centre on the Far West Side, Barnett said he will continue to work with good firms. Such as? “You’ll have to wait and see,” he said.