Revealed: KPF’s Towering One Vanderbilt

One VanderbiltOne Vanderbilt, Image via KPF

New renderings of SL Green’s KPF-designed One Vanderbilt have appeared, giving significantly more life to a tower that had previously only been seen in a vague sketch; the images depict a towering giant, soaring well beyond notable neighbors like The Chrysler Building and MetLife. The photos come from the Center for Architecture’s presentation on the subject this past summer, which offers an excellent discourse on density, urbanity, and the pedestrian sphere.

Located at 41 East 42nd Street, One Vanderbilt will be one of the first towers to rise as part of the Midtown East re-zoning, and the building will occupy the entire block. Immediately adjacent to Grand Central, the site represents an incredible opportunity to showcase big and bold ideas, and it certainly seems KPF is up to the task. One Vanderbilt looks like a taller sibling of Related’s Hudson Yards towers, which comes as no surprise given they share the same architect.

During the Center for Architecture’s presentation, James von Klemperer of KPF describes the innovation present in One Vanderbilt’s design, and its potential to be a transformative landmark both on the skyline and at the pedestrian level. Given its location and future underground passages connecting with Grand Central, “[the] high-rise becomes Grand Central West,” incorporating an enormous and open public space at the base. The increase in foot-traffic associated with the opening of East Side Access means that all new developments under the Midtown East re-zoning will have to address the vicinity’s increased population density, and increasing the built density is an obvious first step – and as Klemperer says, “[the] most dense building type is actually open at its base.”

Beyond the base, the tower portion is also critical, as is the pinnacle. In a welcome respite from the trends of 57th Street, Klemperer describes how “[the] top of the building is seen as a mass that does not block the views of the skyline […] but allows one to see around it, in the tradition of New York,” which is an extremely valid point. Before the Twin Towers, every single building at the top of New York’s skyline had a tapered top with a spire element, and One Vanderbilt will hopefully echo the city’s past – One World Trade Center cannot be compared to the likes of The Empire State Building and The Chrysler in this regard, as the tower’s antenna does not serve any aesthetic function, and instead simply exists for radio broadcasts. Again, in an aesthetic contrast to One World Trade, One Vanderbilt’s crown “is a place where every New Yorker can come to, and excites the imagination,” – the key word here is imagination, something that seems to be lacking in the current race to the sky.

Changes to the Midtown re-zoning plans likely mean that One Vanderbilt’s configuration will undergo changes, as allowances for residential space have been introduced; if anything, this will make the buildings even taller, though it does not bode well for functional public rooftop observatories, as residents of uber-luxe supertalls tend to shun crowds. Still, KPF seems intent on bringing in an observatory to the project, and if plans do change, that is one element that will hopefully be kept intact – and per the rezoning, “for all buildings over 18 FAR, public access to the skyline should be evaluated,” which is a category One Vanderbilt will fall under.

As-is, One Vanderbilt is a taller sibling to the Hudson Yards towers; it is clearly not a final product at this point, but it will transform the Midtown skyline regardless, and early renderings paint an enormously tall picture, with the tower possibly approaching the 1,500-foot mark. As the first of the new Midtown East giants, it will pave the way in terms of innovation on a number of fronts – if the Center for Architecture talks are correct, it does seem that SL Green is intent on working with KPF to achieve these goals, promising to establish the new skyscraper as an icon on multiple levels.

For any questions, comments, or feedback, email [email protected]

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