By Carter B. Horsley
Sleek, elegant, nice glass curtain walls do
not necessarily make a great skyscraper.
Scale is important and so is form.
JPMorgan Chase is one of Lower Manhattan's
historic companies. J. P. Morgan, of course, was the financial
wizard who not only saved the country from a major financial crisis
but also amassed a great art collection that unfortunately was
mostly dispersed although part of it resides at The Morgan Library
on Madison Avenue between 36th and 37th Streets (see The
City Review article). When David Rockefeller was chairman
of the Chase Bank he decided to show the company's faith in downtown
when it was suffering from a corporate exodus to midtown and the
suburbs by erecting a major new skyscraper at 1 Chase Manhattan
Plaza designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill. That flat-top
tower with its gleaming stainless-steel columns and huge plaza,
unfortunately ruined the world's most dramatic and important and
romantic skyscraper skyline because of its massive bulk and flat
top amid the great spindly spires of Lower Manhattan.
The World Trade Center would screw up the skyline
even more by knocking it askew and off-balance whereas the Chase
tower was at least pretty much in the center of the financial
The World Trade Center, of course, was demolished
in the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 (see The
City Review article) and will be replaced by the Freedom Tower
(see The City Review article) and three
other major new office towers, a transportation center, a memorial
and a park (see The City Review article).
The Freedom Tower, the three other major new office towers and
the transportation center will occupy the north and east sides
of the 16-acre Ground Zero site, which is across West Street from
the World Financial Center at Battery Park City.
The planned JPMorgan Chase tower of about 42
stories will replace the former Deutsche Bank building of about
similar size at the southwest corner of Greenwich and Cedar Streets
that was seriously damaged in the terrorist attacks and whose
demolition has been long delayed and very controversial. The site
faces north directly over Cedar Street to Ground Zero.
Given the prominence of its location and the
notoriety already attached to the design debacle about the redevelopments
at Ground Zero, it is extraordinary that the new JPMorgan Chase
tower design by Kohn Pedersen Fox is so awful, especially that
firm has recently produced fine designs for residential buildings
at One Jackson Square in Greenwich Village and Park Avenue Place
in east midtown.
It is ungainly, very ungainly and its designed
has earned it the knickname of the "Beer Belly Building."
Very often one wonderful design can make up
for several bad ones. Here, however, one terrible design is compounding
the problem of the other bad ones and condemning Lower Manhattan
to a banal newness.
Moreover, New York State is providing substantial
tax relief for the project that has been estimated to be about
$240 million, or about the same amount as the bank's sub-net lease
ending in 2100 to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey
for the 1.3-million-square-foot building. An article by Charles
V. Bagli in the June 16, 2007 edition of The New York Times
stated that 'State and city officials content that the Chase deal
is far more parismonious than the extraordinaryily generous subsidry
pakckage given to Goldman Sachs in 2005 to buld a new headquarters
at Battery Park City," adding that "critics put the
value of that deal, which is now almost universally reviled by
public officials, at more than $650 million."
The Goldman Sachs tower, now under construction,
is a conventional office building of no particular distinction
and no special bulges.
The building has been called "The Tower
of Darkness" because of its blocking of the sky over the
church. The building's regular floors have about 32,000 square
feet but the building bulges out on its north facade up to 165
feet starting at its 12th floor to provide several "trading
floors" of various sizes ranging up to about 60,000. The
north facade of the "bulge" is slanted outwards while
the top of the building is slanted upwards to the south. Renderings
indicated that the underside of the cantilevered section will
have downward lighting, which presumably might offset its shadows
on the church that was severely damaged in the terrorist attacks.
The obvious solution to this mess is to redesign
the building with trading floors at the base and the church atop
the tower, a little bit closer to heaven. It will be a lot cheaper
and such a redesign would most likely look better.
What a topsy-turvy city!