Death of the PTACs: TF Cornerstone To Give Luxury Rentals Gift of Central Air

PTACs marring the 'poor door' side of Extell's 40 Riverside Boulevard; note PTAC-free condo component at right

New York City’s architectural legacy is in peril. The threat does not come from the 57th Street towers, nor the destruction of historic buildings, but something most would consider mundane: air conditioning.

Money can buy you a lot of things in New York, but a new rental building with central air is not among them. Unique among North America’s cities, builders in New York have forsaken generations-old technology used in every city from Los Angeles to Toronto, in favor of the lowly packaged terminal air conditioning (or PTAC) unit.

Punched through the wall below a building’s windows, PTAC units mar the façades of new rental buildings from the Financial District to Flushing, Boerum Hill to the Bronx. They are found in affordable housing developments and low-end rentals, as well as skyscraping towers in Midtown that charge $3,500 a month for a studio apartment.

“They have terrible energy performance, terrible acoustical characteristics and terrible aesthetics,” wrote one architect from a major New York City firm that’s built projects using the units.

Why they’re used in the first place is somewhat of a mystery. Simple inertia and the high cost of development in America’s largest city, forcing builders to scrimp and save wherever they can, are the most oft-cited reasons. But there are also regulatory hurdles, from special Department of Buildings permits needed for central air, to height limits that make ducted systems more difficult.

And then there’s a contingent within the city’s insular construction industry that doesn’t even realize how unique our reliance on PTACs really is. (In reality, while they’re fairly common in urban hotels and can occasionally be found in cheap rental projects and older buildings outside of New York, they’re almost never used for new luxury projects.)

But one of the city’s largest developers is starting to buck the trend. In two of their rental buildings under development – 33 Bond Street in Downtown Brooklyn, and 606 West 57th Street on the Far West Side – TF Cornerstone will be forgoing the standard below-window units in favor of more civilized forms of air conditioning.

“We raised the question [of air conditioning] anew at the 57th Street project,” TF Cornerstone’s director of planning, Jon McMillan, told YIMBY.

606 West 57th Street

606 West 57th Street, image from TF Cornerstone

On 57th Street, he said, “we thought it would be nice from the interior to have floor-to-ceiling glass” – something that isn’t possible with a PTAC unit, which sits on the floor and takes up a significant amount of space. “We made the decision from the leasing point-of-view that it would make the unit seem more impressive and expansive.”

The second consideration that led to the decision to nix the PTACs, he said, was the city’s energy code.

“The PTAC unit is kind of a shoddy thing, because it’s a bunch of perforations in the façade. It’s not very efficient,” McMillan explained, “and it’s now increasingly hard to meet the energy code using PTACs.”

Karl Fischer's attempt at clean lines at the Nathaniel in the East Village was admirable, but ruined by PTACs in the corners.

Karl Fischer’s clean lines at the Nathaniel in the East Village are interrupted by PTAC units in the window corners, via EV Grieve

Finally, he said, the heat pump alternative to PTACs doesn’t count towards a building’s allowed square footage, since mechanical space is deducted from a building’s floor area for zoning purposes. A heat pump sits on the floor in a corner space, feeding cool air into both the living and bedrooms, whereas a PTAC must cantilever over the floor in every room with climate control and therefore cannot be deducted as mechanical space.

PTACs, McMillan said, “are almost as hideous from the inside” as they are on the outside. “They’re really fat and bulky, and they protrude. I kept saying, why can’t anybody improve on this design? The answer I got was that we only use them in New York, therefore the market is so small that nobody bothers to try to improve them.”

TF Cornerstone’s willingness to take another look at old ways of doing business is refreshing, and other developers will hopefully follow suit. But the city should also look for ways to encourage the use of more attractive, efficient and comfortable air conditioning systems.

The stick of the energy code is one way, but the Department of Buildings should also dangle the carrot of easier compliance with permitting rules for systems other than PTACs and through-wall units. One expediter we spoke to pegged the cost of getting a so-called “equipment use permit,” needed to install central air-scale condensers (but not PTACs), at $7,000 or $8,000. The permit then needs to be renewed annually, something he said rarely happens, with heavy fines levied on those who don’t comply. Another architect told YIMBY that the city’s noise regulations effectively forbid the use of mini-splits – a ductless system somewhere between PTACs and central air, commonly used in Europe and Asia, in which the condenser can be placed on the roof or otherwise out of sight.

Rental buildings will always have cheaper finishes and fewer amenities than condos, but skimping on quality air conditioning should not be necessary. If every other city in North America has managed to find a way to deliver rentals without PTACs – often at a fraction of our rents – New York City can too.

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Posted in 33 Bond Street | 606 West 57th Street | Architecture | Hotel | Midtown | New York | PTACs | Residential | TF Cornerstone

Permits Filed: 606 West 57th Street

606 West 57th Street

A few months after TF Cornerstone won approvals for its massive, 1,000-unit-plus development on the Far West Side, SLCE Architects has filed for building permits for the apartment building at 606 West 57th Street.

The filing puts the building’s total construction area at a whopping 1.2 million square feet, on par with Midtown office towers rather than apartments. Of that, 952,938 square feet will be dedicated to apartments, plus another 40,000 square feet for retail space. The building will rise 42 stories, reaching 440 feet into the air, and will contain 1,028 apartments – meaning it will no longer be in the running for highest unit count in the city. SLCE is the architect of record, but Miami-based Arquitectonica is responsible for design.

606 West 57th Street

606 West 57th Street, image by TF Cornerstone

The tower wraps around a holdout structure on the southwestern corner of 57th Street and 11th Avenue, and will replace a Lexus and Acura car dealership. The area around far West 57th Street is currently in transition from a low-slung car dealership row to a high-rent residential neighborhood, capitalizing on 57th Street’s rising cachet and the revitalization of Columbus Circle three avenues to the west. TF Cornerstone also told YIMBY that they’re looking to see if there’s any community interest in retaining the mid-century neon vertical parking sign on the 57th Street frontage, preserving a bit of the strip’s history and avoiding a repeat of the Kentile controversy in Brooklyn.

Neon sign on West 57th Street, photo from Google Streetview

Neon sign on West 57th Street, photo from Google Streetview

The permit filing comes after newly-elected Upper West Side councilwoman Helen Rosenthal cut a deal with the developers to make the building’s “affordable” units more accessible to wealthier residents. In exchange for adding about 20 more units of below-market rentals, she allowed TF Cornerstone to up the lowest-priced units’ maximum income restriction from 40 percent of the area median income to 60 percent. She also negotiated a new income band, reserving some units for families making 175 percent to 230 percent of area median income – meaning a family of four must earn between around $147,000 and $193,000 a year to qualify for the lottery for those apartments.

Groundbreaking should occur in the fall, according to the developer.

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Posted in 606 West 57th Street | Helen Rosenthal | SLCE | TF Cornerstone

What Could Have Been: The DGA Tower, 110 West 57th Street

The DGA Building, image from Google Maps

The New York Times recently reported on the history of the DGA Building at 110 West 57th Street, as well as the potential for redevelopment. Roughly one decade ago, there was actually a proposal for such a project, though it never came to fruition.

110 West 57th Street’s relative value has increased dramatically since the old proposal, as the thoroughfare has transformed into “Billionaire’s Row,” with development stretching to heights New York City has never seen before. While the street will soon have some of the tallest towers on Earth, the DGA site should be relatively short; a new mixed-use building would total approximately 100,000 square feet, given available air rights.

The DGA Building

Old plan for 110 West 57th Street, image by Costas Kondylis

Old plans are a departure from what will eventually rise, given the scope of the original vision, which would have measured 260,000 square feet. The future 111 West 57th Street will partially block the DGA development’s Central Park views, and in a neighborhood where 1,000′ towers are now normal, 110 West 57th Street lacks the necessary air rights to join the supertall pack.

Despite the DGA’s relatively limited potential, even mid-rises in the neighborhood are generally quite attractive, with hotels like the recently-opened Viceroy and the soon-to-be Firmdale 18 West 56th Street coming to surrounding blocks. The demolition of the old 110 West 57th Street will also benefit the street, as the existing structure became an eyesore after it was renovated in the 1950s.

The DGA Building

Old plan for 110 West 57th Street, image by Costas Kondylis

Ultimate plans for the site remain unknown, but given trends along 57th Street, the DGA site has sizable potential, and the days of the existing building would appear to be numbered.

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Posted in 110 West 57th Street | Architecture | DGA Building | Midtown | New York | Residential

Foundation Work Begins at 225 West 57th Street and 220 Central Park South

220 Central Park South, photo by Andrew McKeon

Excavation has been ongoing for several months at Vornado’s 220 Central Park South, but it appears that the process is now coming to a close; the first concrete is now pouring into the tower’s enormous pit, signaling the start of actual construction.

220 Central Park South

220 Central Park South, concrete pour beginning, photo by Andrew McKeon

Robert A.M. Stern is designing the 950′ and 65-story tower, which promises to make a significant impact on the skyline when viewed from Central Park. Wednesday’s reveal of the future cityscape showed the building’s prominence, and while it will be completely obscured from the south by Extell’s 225 West 57th Street, views to the north and west will be comprehensive, likely commanding the highest asking prices among any condominium developments in New York City.

The latest construction photos also come with fresh zoning diagrams filed with the Department of Buildings, which give a first look at the component fronting Central Park South, which has been dubbed “The Villas,” and will be defined by a series of minor setbacks before topping-out 17 floors above street level; its net scope will measure 57,713 square feet, while the larger tower will total 414,349 square feet.

Diagrams also break the square footage out on a floor-by-floor basis, and the the penthouse at “The Villas” will likely be expansive. Floors 10 through 12 total 8,283 square feet, and 13 through 15 span 6,441 square feet. Any combination could be vast, and a 14,000 square-foot unit would not be preposterous, given the neighborhood and comparable properties; One57′s Winter Garden penthouse is a similar size.

Across the street, the first concrete also appears to be filling the pit at 225 West 57th Street, though the scope of that site means excavation still has a ways to go. Nevertheless, West 58th Street now spans a minor chasm.

225 West 57th Street

Concrete starting at 225 West 57th Street, photo by Andrew McKeon

Completion of 220 Central Park South is expected in 2016.

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Posted in 220 Central Park South | 57th street | Architecture | Construction Update | Midtown | New York | Residential | Robert Stern Architects | Vornado

Future Look: 57th Street’s Evolving Supertall Skyline

225 W 57th, One57, 111 W 57th, and 53 W 53rd, image by Armand Boudreaux for YIMBY, original via Google Earth

While YIMBY recently revealed Extell’s Nordstrom Tower, the first glimpse lacked a perspective of the structure’s impact on the broader Midtown skyline. Now, with the help of illustrator Armand Boudreaux, YIMBY has fresh images of the skyscraper’s position on the skyline, including nearby developments like 220 Central Park South, 111 West 57th Street, 432 Park Avenue, and 53 West 53rd Street.

Midtown's Future Skyline

432 Park, 111 W. 57th, 53 W. 53rd, One57, 225 W. 57th, and 220 CPS, image by Armand Boudreaux for YIMBY, original via Google Earth

Height is the most obvious commonality among the new projects, and taken individually, the developments are enormous in their own right. Collectively, the towers will redefine the Midtown skyline in a positive way, showcasing New York’s continued dominance as the pre-eminent global city.

Shadows over Central Park have been described as an issue by some, but the battle against height restrictions was lost with the 250-foot-tall Plaza Hotel, which was built back in 1907. Midtown Manhattan is already among the densest places in the world, with over one hundred skyscrapers standing over 500 feet tall, and as the renderings show, the new supertalls will certainly be prominent — but the additional impact on the park of these slender towers will be minimal.

Midtown's Future Skyline

Midtown’s Future Skyline, image by Armand Boudreaux for YIMBY, original via Google Earth

With an existing plateau approximately 800 feet above street level, the new supertalls will add variety to the skyline, harkening back to 1920s Manhattan, which is most certainly a good thing. Midtown’s mesa-like appearance is adequate, but begs for dramatic peaks — which the 57th Street towers will deliver — and those are what ultimately define an iconic vista.

432 Park Avenue is already dwarfing One57 when viewed from Central Park, but the prominence of Midtown’s first residential supertall will fall further once 111 West 57th Street and the Nordstrom Tower surround it on both sides; indeed, the city’s first tower designed for billionaires will soon be relegated to second-class status, in a land where the newest and biggest tend to be most expensive. (Who even remembers CitySpire?)

Midtown's Future Skyline

Midtown’s Future Skyline, image by Armand Boudreaux for YIMBY, original via Google Earth

Finally, the Nordstrom Tower will result in a temporary peak, 1,775 feet above street level. The spire atop Extell’s latest project will become the highest manmade object in Midtown, providing a literal summit point for the skyline’s continued evolution.

The aforementioned buildings will soon result in a new nascent plateau, as 432 Park, 111 West 57th, and Nordstrom Tower will all have roof heights of approximately 1,400 feet above street level. Given the continued boom and New York’s housing crunch, additional supertalls of similar heights are likely, and New York’s future skyline will soon resemble the Manhattan of 100 years ago, albeit on a much larger scale. Additional supertalls will also fill out the skyline at the new plateau, improving the skyline, which is always more than the sum of its parts.

Midtown's Future Skyline

Midtown’s Future Skyline, image by Armand Boudreaux for YIMBY, original via Google Earth

This speaks to the idea of filtering, and how all residential property gradually filters down to lower-income households in the long run, which is why the current boom will eventually benefit New Yorkers of a wider income spectrum — from the mere-millionaires who may eventually live in these apartments, to those in the outer-boroughs and Upper Manhattan who won’t be priced out by those seeking luxury property. The more supertalls that rise, the less their intrinsic value will be; given time, the subdivision of mega-condos seems likely.

Additionally, as supertall technology continues to improve, more mass-market developments like 520 West 41st Street, which if approved would include sizable affordable housing set-asides, are appearing on the horizon. If New York State can cast off its onerous limit on residential FAR, and if local zoning can be modified, Midtown Manhattan could become a more vibrant place where people both live and work, reducing the burden on transportation systems.

Midtown's Future Skyline

Midtown’s Future Skyline, image by Armand Boudreaux for YIMBY, original via Google Earth

The evolution of Manhattan’s skyline is a gradual process, but change over the next decade will be immense — and if less restrictive zoning can be implemented, the benefits of supertall construction will soon extend to New Yorkers of all incomes.

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Posted in 111 West 57th Street | 217 West 57th Street | 220 Central Park South | 225 West 57th Street | 432 Park Avenue | 45 East 60th Street | 520 Park Avenue | 53 West 53rd Street | 57th street | Midtown | Nordstrom | Supertall | The Nordstrom Tower

Nordstrom Tower to Become World’s Tallest Residential Building at 1,775 Feet

Nordstrom Tower, 3D Model and architectural diagrams

YIMBY has the latest drawings of Nordstrom Tower, courtesy of an anonymous tipster close to the project. Scoping documents also include the actual height numbers: 225 West 57th Street‘s facade will top-out 1,479′ above street level, while a surprise spire on top will cap the tower at 1,775 feet. Adrian Smith and Gordon Gill are designing the building.

Nordstrom Tower

Diagram of the Nordstrom Tower’s roof and spire, 1,775′ up

New York City’s skyscraper boom is entering unparalleled territory, and 225 West 57th Street could very well represent the crest of the current wave, assuming the tower is financed. The new height details will result in several superlatives: Manhattan will finally retake the ‘tallest roof’ in the United States from Chicago’s Willis Tower, which stands 1,451′, and 225 West 57th Street will become the tallest residential building in the entire world, surpassing both 432 Park Avenue and Mumbai’s World One Tower.

Nordstrom Tower

Nordstrom Tower, south elevation along 57th Street

Structural drawings indicate the curtain wall will be accompanied by steel fins and aluminum louvers, and the result should become a contemporary icon on the Manhattan skyline.  The talented Otie O’Daniel created 3D models of the tower based on the drawings and schematics, which give better insight into the building’s eventual appearance — though the images are not official renderings.

Nordstrom Tower

Nordstrom Tower — rendering by Otie O’Daniel

225 West 57th Street’s design has seen modifications since vague renderings were presented to Landmarks during the debate over the tower’s cantilever, which will rest over the historic Arts Students League. Additional protrusions have been eliminated, and the ultimate design appears to be far sleeker than the original proposal.

Even the cantilever appears to be well-integrated, adding additional heft to the stem of the actual tower, which rises after several setbacks in a style befitting the wedding cake-shape of Manhattan’s traditional skyscrapers. The result is aggressive, and the tower’s ultimate pinnacle will stand over 300 feet taller than any other manmade objects in Midtown, piercing the nascent plateau emerging around the 1,400-foot mark.

The Nordstrom Tower

The Nordstrom Tower

In terms of contemporary comparisons, the design looks to draw from Smith + Gill’s Trump International Tower in Chicago, which is also replete with setbacks and ends in a distinctive but far shorter spire; indeed, it almost looks like a merger between Trump and Willis, though the notched indentations at Nordstrom will be far less intrusive than the setbacks on the former Sears Tower.

Extell’s latest development will have a collection of superlative titles, but its (hopefully) imminent rise underscores the velocity of New York’s general ‘supertall’ boom, which is now the most impressive on the planet. In Midtown alone, other supertalls on the near-horizon include 111 West 57th Street, 432 Park Avenue, 53 West 53rd Street, 3 Hudson Boulevard, 30 Hudson Yards, and 35 Hudson Yards, all of which are already under construction or on their way.

Nordstrom Tower

Nordstrom Tower — rendering by Otie O’Daniel

While the Nordstrom Tower’s roof height will be the tallest in the Western Hemisphere, its pinnacle will fall one foot shy of One World Trade Center’s, which begs the question of whether Extell could simply add a few dozen feet to snatch the crown. Such a feat would not be unprecedented, and what ultimately signals resilience is continued progress; instead of deferring to the “Freedom Tower,” 225 West 57th Street should surpass it, returning the title of Manhattan’s tallest building to Midtown on a more permanent basis.

Completion of 225 West 57th Street is currently slated for 2018, and the most recent permits — which were partially approved on July 1st — reveal a total scope of over 1.2 million square feet.

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Posted in 217 West 57th Street | 225 W57th | 225 West 57th Street | Extell | The Nordstrom Tower

Permits Filed: Louis Vuitton Expanding at 743 5th Avenue

743 5th Avenue -- gap at center -- image via Google Maps

The first permits are up for Louis Vuitton’s horizontal expansion to 743 5th Avenue, which will apparently result in the temporary closure of portions of its retail flagship, at 1 East 57th Street. LVMH Moet Hennessey “Luis” Vuitton is listed as the developer.

743 5th Avenue’s floor area will be quite small, totaling 1,580 square feet, but the one-story building will stand 85 feet tall, offering soaring ceilings that would normally befit an eight-story structure.

The New York Observer reported on LVMH’s acquisition of the lot back in 2007, when it sold for $60 million. An original structure spanning 20,000 square feet has already been demolished, paving the way for work to begin on Louis Vuitton’s expansion.

743 5th Avenue

743 5th Avenue at center pre-demolition, image via Google Maps

Demolition of the original structure does beg the question of where the “missing” air rights are in the latest permits, given the large reduction in overall square footage. Nearby sites would be unlikely for a residential assemblage, and the value of Fifth Avenue retail in the proposed format will be astronomical, though 18,000 square feet would still fetch an extremely high sum given the site’s address and neighborhood.

No completion date for the expansion has been announced.

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Posted in 1 East 57th Street | 57th street | 743 5th Avenue | 743 Fifth Avenue | Architecture | Construction Update | Louis Vuitton | Midtown | Midtown East | New York

Construction Update: 220 Central Park South

Aerial shot of 217 West 57th Street at center and 220 Central Park South above

Excavation is making major headway at Vornado’s 220 Central Park South, and the first signs of eventual verticality are also on-site: mock-ups of the tower’s cladding are located next to the project’s entrance on Central Park South, giving an idea of what the facade will soon look like. Robert A.M. Stern is the project’s architect.

220 Central Park South

Another perspective of the mock-ups

The latest permits — which were approved earlier this month — maintain the 66-story tower’s height of 950 feet. A separate 17-story ‘villa’ will be located directly on Central Park South, and the development will be comprised of two distinct buildings, much like 15 Central Park West. 220 Central Park South will have 160 condominiums in total.

220 Central Park South

Facade mock-ups

Facade mock-ups reveal four different types of limestone that could ultimately clad the development, and the range is fairly specific, from mottled off-white to semi-beige. Each of the choices looks phenomenal, and regardless of the shade that’s chosen, the design of 220 Central Park South promises to become an iconic addition to the New York skyline.

220 Central Park South

220 Central Park South, excavation viewed from CPS

An insider has also tipped YIMBY that renderings previously revealed on Curbed are somewhat out of date, but since their reception was so overwhelmingly positive, Vornado may ultimately revert to the tower’s old design. Whether that actually happens remains to be seen, but the on-site diagrams offer a minimal departure from the renderings, so the final product is going to be attractive regardless.

Completion of 220 Central Park South is slated for 2016.

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Posted in 220 Central Park South | 57th street | Architecture | Construction Update | Midtown | New York | Residential | Robert Stern Architects | Vornado

Construction Update: 625 West 57th Street

625 West 57th Street

625 West 57th Street is now rising rapidly, and the site has seen major progress over the past few months; the building is being developed by Durst, and Bjarke Ingels of BIG is the project’s architect.

625 West 57th Street

The first steel that will form the backbone for the facade

The superstructure’s intricacies are just becoming obvious, as the tetrahedral tower reveals its ground-breaking shape; the first exterior steel, which will form the back-bone of the built envelope, is currently being installed on the site’s southwest corner. Staggered setbacks cast in concrete will meld with metal to create BIG’s innovative exploration of what 21st Century living should actually be like, moving beyond the traditional mold for residential construction.

625 West 57th Street

625 West 57th Street

Per a recent statement from Durst, the building’s courtyard is “inspired by the classic Copenhagen urban oasis,” and “serves to extend the adjacent greenery of the Hudson River Park,” existing as ‘a hybrid between the European perimeter block and a traditional Manhattan high-rise development.”

625 West 57th Street

625 West 57th Street’s 58th Street-facing side

625 West 57th Street will have 709 units spanning 32 floors, and the tower is roughly one-quarter of the way up. Lower levels are significantly larger than the upper stories, so apparent speed will likely increase as the building rises and floor-plates contract. Completion is just over a year out, and BIG’s West Side icon will open in the fall of 2015.

625 West 57th Street

625 West 57th Street, image by BIG

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Posted in 57th street | 625 West 57th Street | Architecture | BIG | Bjarke Ingels | Construction Update | Durst | Midtown | Midtown West | New York | Residential

Construction Update: 432 Park Avenue Passes the 1,000′ Mark

432 Park Avenue

432 Park Avenue has continued its rapid ascent, and the Vinoly-designed tower now stands over 1,000 feet tall; as of this week, the building’s core is at the 68th floor, while the perimeter walls are at 66. That puts its height at 1,054′, which is taller than any rooftop north of the Empire State Building.

432 Park Avenue

432 Park Avenue

CIM and Macklowe are developing the building, which has nearly 350 feet to go before topping-out; 432 Park Avenue will eventually total 1,397′, which will put its roof above One World Trade Center’s. Since last month’s update, the structure has risen nearly 100 feet, pushing it above the Midtown plateau.

432 Park Avenue

432 Park Avenue

432 Park’s impact on the skyline is just now becoming obvious, and it dominates the vicinity, topping both Citigroup and Bloomberg Tower by a significant margin. Already visible from parts of New Jersey and Long Island, its prominence will continue to grow, and even One57 will soon look diminutive compared to Vinoly’s vision in concrete.

Traversing the 1,000′ milestone is significant as so few buildings in New York have broken the invisible barrier, though that is about to change. While One57 pierces just above the mark — and was the first residential tower to do so — 432 Park Avenue will shatter it. One year from now, 217 West 57th Street and 111 West 57th Street will also be rising, eventually joining CIM’s supertower at the height of the skyline.

432 Park Avenue

432 Park Avenue

Besides the superstructure’s continued ascent, work has also made headway on the two retail components, which promise to enhance both Park Avenue and 57th Street. 432 Park Avenue will be completed in 2015, and sales have already been impressive; of the remaining units, a penthouse on the 92nd floor is currently listed for $79.5 million

432 Park Avenue

Park Avenue Retail

 

432 Park Avenue

57th Street Retail

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Posted in 432 Park Avenue | 57th street | Architecture | CIM | Construction Update | Macklowe | Midtown | Midtown East | New York | Residential | Supertall | Vinoly

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