The Attraction of 15 Central Park West

What do hedge-fund manager Daniel Loeb, Citigroup creator

Sandy Weill, and Goldman Sachs CEO Lloyd Blankfein

have in common? They’ve all bought an apartment at 15 Central Park West –

a new development in New York where, as Paul Goldberger puts

it in the latest New Yorker, "the more spectacular units went

for prices that would make even a movie star blanch". (Denzel Washington

and Sting have apparently bought places on lower floors).

It’s the most successful residential development in New York history. So just

what is it that makes 15 CPW so different, so appealing?

One of the interesting things about 15 CPW is that it’s unabashedly retro.

"I have never seen anything quite like it," says Golberger. "Historical

pastiche is common enough in country houses or museums, but it’s rare

on the scale of a skyscraper."

Here’s another interesting thing about 15 CPW: "All the apartments were

sold before the building was finished, at prices that started at more than two

thousand dollars a square foot and were subsequently raised nineteen times."

And this is a big building: the apartments in it are worth roughly $2 billion.

If you added up all the trendy downtown starchitect developments, from Richard

Meier’s glass towers in the West Village through Jean Nouvel’s

glass block in Soho, to Charles Gwathmey’s glass tower in the

East Village, Bernard Tschumi’s glass tower on the Lower East

Side, and even Herzog and De Meuron’s glass building in Noho

and John Pawson’s minimalist temples in Gramercy Park, you’re

still not even close to $2 billion.

What’s going on here? New York’s ultrarich buy Cattelan, not Canaletto. They

flock to Thomas Keller, and abjure Alain Ducasse. If their lifestyles are so

modern, why would they want to live in a limestone tower with book-matched marble

in the bathrooms?

I think there’s a combination of factors at play here. One is that 15 CPW simply

feels solid. It has an excellent address and a timeless quality to

it: "the traditional-looking front wing blends into Central Park West as

if it had always been there," notes Goldberger, and there’s very little

chance that it will be seen as hopelessly dated in a decade or two. If any post-war

residential building in New York will ever achieve true long-term desirability,

this is probably the one.

Another factor is that 15 CPW’s arhitect, Robert A. M. Stern,

isn’t asking the residents of his building to change their lifestyle in order

to fulfill his vision. You want a living room and a dining room and walls to

hang art and elegantly-proportioned spaces and even bedrooms for the children

or houseguests? You’ve got it. You want to have stuff, rather than

an elegantly curated collection of mid-century modern architecture presented

in a white cube? No problem. You like to walk on carpet, and admire the view,

and not have your favorite leather armchair feel out of place? Walk right in.

When you buy something downtown and trendy, by contrast, you’re buying not

an apartment so much as a lifestyle. Which is maybe fine for a young trader

cashing a massive bonus check. But the real titans of the financial world already

have a lifestyle, thankyouverymuch, and they’re not about to trade

it in for a new one.

AA Gill famously toured

many of the new downtown buildings for Vanity Fair last year.

What they all seem to have in common are their vast expanses of glass. Over

in Europe, we’re all a bit fed up with the answer to every urban architectural

problem being a sheet of textured glass wrapped around steel. We’ve grown

cynical about the metaphor of transparency, openness, harmony, and light.

It’s not like floating in the sky. It’s like living in Pyrex. Like being the

ingredients in some glutinous civic fruitcake...

These apartments don’t have space for a family, or dogs with hair, or lives

that involve more than passive absorbing of electronic stimuli and e-mails…

No one will buy one of these gloomy spaces and say, "I want to have kids

here. I want to grow old and die here."

And there, in a nutshell, you have the attraction of 15 CPW. When you’re lying

on your fantasy deathbed, with your loving family gathered around you, you don’t

want floor-to-ceiling windows and sterile minimalism. You want to feel at home,

in a place of warmth and comfort.

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