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Snøhetta's Upper West Side luxury tower approved despite large mechanical void

Into the Void

Snøhetta's Upper West Side luxury tower approved despite large mechanical void

Extell's controversial plan for 50 West 66th Street (shown far right) was approved for construction this week. (Courtesy Snøhetta)

Yesterday, the New York City Board of Standards and Appeals (BSA) approved Extell Development’s contentious residential tower on the Upper West Side, according to Gothamist. After years of back and forth over the height, the Snøhetta-designed 50 West 66th Street is set to rise at 776 feet tall—the tallest building in the neighborhood—and will keep its significant mechanical void space at the core of the tower’s chiseled frame.

The project was under threat as recently as last month, when preservation organization Landmarks West claimed that Extell was inflating the building’s height with its 192-foot-tall mechanical void in order to charge a higher premium for top-level units. As AN has previously reported, the Billionaire’s Row developer has pulled this move before, side-stepping zoning regulations throughout the city and ignoring caps on maximum floor areas. 

Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer said the appeal’s loss, which occurred in a 2-2 vote tie since one of the BSA members abstained from the process, was major and signals a problem for future similar developments. Opponents have been worried that real estate giants like Extell could use this as a precedent to design large voids in other tower projects in order to boost their overall size. A similar claim was levied against the Rafael Viñoly Architects-designed 249 East 62nd Street when it was first revealed. 

Sunset rendering of tall tower by Snøhetta
The height of the tower’s mechanical void space has been at the center of debate since the project’s debut. (Courtesy Snøhetta)

Back in early 2019, Extell almost lost the project entirely when it was forced to rethink the tower’s 700-plus-foot height (it was originally pitched at 262 feet). Brewer said construction permits would be revoked, despite approval by the Department of Buildings if Extell failed to change the arrangement and height of its mechanical spaces. The outcry, from both public officials and local residents of the Upper West Side, resulted in a study by the Department of City Planning that detailed how, in New York City, mechanical floors had been excluded from the zoning floor area calculation. In late May, the New York City Council voted to prevent developers from further exploiting this loophole by limiting the height of mechanical voids to 25 feet. 

Because 50 West 66th Street was passed before the amendment was made to the zoning law, Gothamist noted the luxury tower will now hold a mechanical void space that totals 176 feet in height—a 16-foot reduction to appease Brewer’s request, but it will now be split into three sections: two 64-foot-tall mechanical areas and a 48-foot-tall void. 

Sean Khorsandi, executive director of Landmarks West, told Gothamist that the appeal rejection wasn’t as shocking as the way the vote played out. “I think it’s ridiculous that even in the case of a tie, the community loses.”

Critics of the project now have the opportunity to file a court appeal as a last-ditch effort to stop it from moving forward.

AN has reached out to Snøhetta for comment.