At the end of 2018, residents began moving into the 467 units at ALTA LIC. The 44-story high-rise, located at 29-22 Northern Boulevard, was designed by the Stephen B. Jacobs Group and developed by partners Simon Baron Development and Quadrum Global. Only ongoing interior work at the 11,372-square-foot retail space reminds passersby of recent construction. Already taller towers rise next door, however ALTA’s pivotal location, expressive façade, and distinctive crown assure the skyscraper’s enduring prominence on the rapidly-growing Long Island City skyline.
The 2014 proposal debut styled the tower as the QE7, in reference to the transit junction half a block to the south, where Jackson Avenue, Queens Boulevard, and Jackson Boulevard, the three principal thoroughfares of western Queens, converge into Queens Plaza at the foot of the Queensboro Bridge.
The elevated subway trestle bifurcates into the eastbound Flushing line of the 7 train and the northbound Astoria line, which carried the Q train (hence the original building name) before its replacement with the W. The Queens Plaza station of the E, M, and R trains sits directly below, but perhaps the marketing team dismissed the QEMR7 as a mouthful.
The current name, which translates as “tall” in Spanish, evidently capitalizes on Long Island City’s growing prestige of lofty living, where soaring heights promise sweeping Manhattan panoramas. ALTA LIC rises 485 feet to the concrete parapet, and around 496 feet to the top of the exposed HVAC unit, ranking the skyscraper as the borough’s eighth- or ninth-tallest, depending on the final structural height of the North Tower topped-out at 5Pointz.
ALTA would had been the second-tallest skyscraper in Queens if built only five years earlier. Instead, the development faces the three broad slabs of the 1,871-unit Jackson Park complex to the south, the 647-foot-tall Tower 28 to the southwest, and the under-construction 29-23 Queens Plaza North to the northwest, which promises to top at 700 feet.
Despite such formidable competition, ALTA stands out thanks to its exposed location. The tower caps eastbound vistas from Queens Plaza, where it greets inbound motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians crossing the Queensboro Bridge.
ALTA plays an important urban role in defining and activating the Dutch Kills Green across the street, a small yet important oasis amid traffic-clogged streets and growing skyscraper canyons. Prevailing urban planning theory, which traces its roots to Greek agoras and medieval piazzas, calls for dense, publicly accessible structures to frame public squares on all sides, in order to focus pedestrian activity within well-defined space. ALTA fills a major street wall gap at the plaza’s eastern flank. Residents and ground-level retail would energize a desolate yet important block that connects the Court Square district with the Dutch Kills neighborhood to the north.
Similarly, at the skyline level, the tower fills a gap between adjacent high-rises, completing visual enclosure that further codifies the Green as a focal point.
The 192-acre Sunnyside Rail Yard, which sprawls behind the tower, was once the largest train yard in the world. Its steel and gravel may be a poor substitute for the scenic verdure of Central Park, yet it opens panoramic vistas to all east-facing residents. This viewshed will remain unobstructed until development of the Yards becomes economically viable at some point in the future.
The tower’s exposed location at the skyline’s eastern edge lends prominent visibility from much of western Queens, particularly from Sunnyside and Astoria.
Robust massing deconstructs the tower slab archetype, shaping the massive, 500,302-square-foot structure into a dynamic, playful form. The skyscraper consists of a pair of rectangular sections, joined by a structurally-expressive central core. The setback of the south section opens breathing room at the dense junction below. The staggered floor plan provides two extra corner rooms per typical floor. Subtle full-height notches soften the corners.
The asymmetric setbacks at the pinnacle emphasize the tower’s skyward thrust, in a Postmodern re-imagining of the classic Art Deco high-rise silhouette. Even the exposed HVAC unit at the top reads as a natural extrusion of the vertical form, though a decorative screen, which was shown on early renderings, would still be most welcome.
Shared resident terraces span the rooftops. A cantilevered canopy at the north setback accents the prevalent vertical theme with a bold horizontal gesture. At night, the glass-walled common room underneath the canopy shines as a prominent beacon, making up for the building’s lack of decorative illumination.
Two distinct architectural approaches address the treatment of skyscraper facades. Traditional models break down monotonous curtain walls with applied ornament, molding courses, and varied materials. By contrast, modernism celebrates the high-rise form through soaring vertical piers and unbroken horizontal bands.
Both approaches are evident at the Dutch Kills Green. On its western flank, 31-story 29-11 Queens Plaza North faces ALTA with a sheer expanse of reflective glass, encased within a Brutalist concrete frame. The façade seamlessly integrates the building’s two distinct components, the Marriott Long Island City hotel on the lower floors, and the Aurora LIC apartments above.
By contrast, ALTA overlays two distinct façade systems upon a singularly residential tower, in brazen Postmodernist defiance of the “form follows function” adage.
A pattern of staggered, variously-sized windows perforates the solid mass of the lower façade. Material and construction quality will determine how well the stark, white panels will resist pollution and the elements over time. Low-quality panel assemblies produce soot-marks and water stains, yet emerging artificial stone and porcelain cladding endure weathering remarkably well.
Near the top, the panels thrust upward through a blue-glass façade, which is accented with raised horizontal bands along the floor plates.
Each system appears mundane on its own, yet their mutual interplay adds whimsy to the Long Island City skyline, oft-criticized for its monotony. The dual façade adds a secondary level of expression to the structure’s articulated massing, which varies in appearance depending on angle of observation.
Transit accessibility proves to be ALTA’s both greatest virtue and woe. The elevated train, which puts Midtown within a few minutes’ ride, rumbles just 40 feet away from the lower floors, screeching as it turns along the high trestle. The street jumble beneath struggles with rush hour bridge approach traffic. Even the architect website acknowledges “extreme noise levels,” which the architects allegedly mitigate through extra soundproofing.
In addition to standard apartments, the project includes ALTA+ by Ollie, a co-living service where tenants rent individual rooms within fully furnished, serviced apartments. Andre Kikoski Architects designed the building’s crisp, restrained interiors. Tenants may indulge in amenities such as lounges, co-working spaces, game rooms, a wellness center, and pet services.
To the city at large, ALTA’s salient amenity is its urban engagement. Ground-level retail promises to enliven an important but desolate block, though added sidewalk landscaping and street lighting would go a long way in achieving this goal. A robust design animates important view corridors. Most visibly of all, the distinctive pinnacle adds character to the growing skyline.