432 Park Avenue

In A Sense of Place, 6. Shock of the New by Nina

432 Park Avenue rises above New York City, casting ominous shadows on the seemingly miniature buildings that surround it. It is one of the tallest skyscrapers in NYC, second only to the One World Trade Center, standing at 1,396 feet; it even tops out the Empire State building by 150 feet. In one of the most coveted real estate lots in Manhattan, found between 56th and 57th streets on Park Avenue, the tower is the largest residential building in the western hemisphere.

432 Park is the epitome of modern architecture. This style, which became dominant after World War II, is characterized by geometric forms, a lack of ornate materials and facades, many sources of natural light, and high functionality. 432 Park fits this description on almost every front: the architect, Rafael Viñoly, believes that his masterpiece is developed around the purest geometric form, found in the square. The original inspiration for 432 Park was in fact a trash can created by designer, Josef Hoffmann. Looking uncannily similar to Hoffmann’s waste receptacle, Viñoly’s skyscraper is geometric in every aspect: square base, square windows, even the interior design has square motifs. Also, like many modern buildings in NYC, the skyscraper’s walls are made of windows, lacking ornate additions. The only area in which 432 Park deviates from conceptions of traditional modern buildings is in its functionality. With 96 floors and 40,000 square feet of usable interior space, 432 Park has merely 104 units that range in price from $7 million to $75 million. Moreover, it is widely believed that although the entire building is sold out, it will only be 25% occupied at a given time. This is due to the type of extremely rich, cosmopolitan buyers that want to put their money in high value New York real estate. 432 Park Avenue is thus very inefficient in its use of sparse city space, screaming of grossly blatant gentrification on every level.

Interior pictures of the skyscraper’s apartment units look as if they were taken out of a science fiction movie. Like the interior of Le Corbusier’s Unite d’Habitation, many furnishings seem to be built-in. Everything is angular and spacious. Walls made of glass let in copious amounts of light, and monochromatic white décor rich with glass fixtures further the intensity of the sun’s rays. Although I have never stepped foot inside 432 Park Avenue (and never intend to), the pictures are visually stimulating because they are so futuristic. Yet, does this type of modernity that is becoming commonplace in gentrified urban architecture create a sense of place? The kind of occupants who quickly bought up apartments in this particular skyscraper suggest that these types of spaces are simply for traveling business tycoons who, in this economically globalized era, are utterly placeless. Personally, I would not enjoy living in a building designed and decorated like 432 Park Avenue; it’s too sterile and prone to coffee stains. It also seems very difficult to create a personal sense of place within such a minimalist and aloof space.

From the outside, modern buildings, such as 432 Park Avenue, go further than lacking a sense of place, they actively destroy it. I have witnessed 432 Park Avenue from all of the boroughs and no matter what way I look at it the skyscraper leaves a bad taste in my mouth. For example, I enjoy running in Central Park in the mornings; during my runs, there used to be areas of the park where I could not see any city buildings surrounding me, letting me get lost in the momentary peacefulness of nature. Now, no matter where I am, I am bombarded by the tower’s jarring presence. 432 Park Avenue hinders one’s sense of place in the city for several reasons. Its blank geometric walls do not add character to the Manhattan like many older buildings do; its façade does not tell a story about past communities and events; and the skyscraper is an assault on your eyes that makes you feel insignificant and puny no matter where you are standing. It’s simply a place for people who come and go, barely adding gross metropolitan product to the five boroughs. Overall, in terms of what 432 Park Avenue adds to the character of NYC, it is fitting that its design is based off of a trash can.

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