With $90 Million Condos, Needle Towers Jostle for Views

Two duplex apartments at the One57 condo tower have sold for more than $90 million each -- a staggering number even in Manhattan’s super-luxe market.

One57, just steps from New York’s Carnegie Hall, is not only crazy expensive, it’s super-tall for a residential building.

Designed by Paris architect Christian de Portzamparc, the tower rises to 1,000 feet, with panoramas of Central Park and midtown Manhattan.

The new building is one of perhaps a dozen needle-thin towers planned for New York. Carol Willis, the founder of Manhattan’s Skyscraper Museum, calls them “a new type in the history of the skyscraper.”

Super-slims are unique to Manhattan. “The economy of land values drives what can be built,” Willis said.

“Sky High and the Logic of Luxury,” an exhibition now on view at the museum makes that case with models, floor plans and diagrams of acrobatic engineering.

In buildings with just one sprawling residence per floor, the owner shares the views only with passing falcons.

You would think these towers would cast deep shadows for blocks around, but their skinniness minimizes the gloom.

The staggering price tags and a perception (possibly fanciful) that the universe of global billionaires is big enough to support a few hundred more units have developers rushing to erect super-slims. The competition for the best views is fierce.

Here’s my street-level assessment of the three 57th Street needles.

One57 (157 West 57th Street)

How does Extell President Gary Barnett get away with selling shiny, gift-wrapped ordinariness for top prices?

One57 crashes unceremoniously into the street, though a not-yet-installed rippling canopy may bring a note of whimsy.

The tower’s exterior, still famous for the construction crane that drooped alarmingly after Hurricane Sandy, is nearly complete.

Endless acres of cheap-looking frameless glass in cartoonish stripes and blotches of silver and pewter muddy this tower’s profile. Enough of lazy, no-character glass walls.

Skillful marketing is cheaper than real architecture. Architect Christian de Portzamparc salvages a bit of dignity with winsomely curving greenhouse hats atop the setbacks. That shaping of the views seems to have commanded the highest prices.

Design Architect: Atelier Christian de Portzamparc.
Developer: Extell Development Co.
Height: 1,004 feet.
Residences: 92.
Amenities: Glass-walled pool; pet-wash rooms.
Prices: At high end, $90 million-plus penthouse.

432 Park Avenue

Despite the name, 432 Park is really on 57th street. Developed by the CIM Group with builder Harry Macklowe, it’s rising to almost 1,400 feet as a cubic silo of concrete with 10-foot-square windows that punch the exterior.

The windows seem to be at war with the extraordinarily slender form.

If it’s finished with finesse, though, this chest-thumper might be gutsy enough to command the sky.

Inside, the monumental windows and 12.5-foot-high ceilings conjure a modernist baronial grandeur. The lowest 9,000-square-foot apartment floors will start 300 feet high -- an elevation sufficient to see past surrounding towers -- atop a pile of residential amenities.

It’s by far the most important building in New York by Vinoly, who has earned recent notoriety for a London tower with reflections that have melted auto trim.

Design Architect: Rafael Vinoly.
Developer: CIM Group, Macklowe Properties Inc.
Height: 1,396 feet.
Residences: about 125.
Amenities: Screening room; studio apartments to house help.
Prices: 3 bedrooms, $20 million; full-floor penthouse, $95

111 W. 57th Street

This tower, by far the skinniest of the needles so far, will rise from the courtyard of the Steinway building, a stoic classical pile that houses the legendary piano showroom.

The condo will culminate in a series of bronze-trimmed setbacks and finials that visually dissolve the building into the sky. (The Steinway Building’s offices will be converted to apartments, though the ornate showroom will remain. Steinway may sell pianos elsewhere within the development).

While the midtown face of the tower thins dramatically at the top, horizontal bands of full-height glass look north to Central Park, and wrap the corners to widen the view.

Rippling moldings in terra cotta run vertically up the skinny sides. If all of these ideas meld gracefully, this will be the most alluring of the midtown super-slims.

Apartment layouts, prices and amenities are still being worked out, but the tower will accommodate no more than one residence per 5,000-square-foot floor, with some duplexes.

Design Architect: SHoP.
Developer: JDS Development Group and Property Markets Group.
Height: About 1,350 feet.
Residences: About 75
Amenities: A recital hall to complement Steinway showroom.

(“Sky High and the Logic of Luxury” runs through April 19th at the Skyscraper Museum. Information: http://www.skyscraper.org.)

(James S. Russell writes on architecture for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. He is the author of “The Agile City.” The opinions expressed are his own.)

Muse highlights include Amanda Gordon on New York Scene, Greg Evans on TV.