Robert A.M. Stern, dean of the Yale School of Architecture, is perhaps the one to credit most — or blame — for the new look of New York City. He’s designed more uber-luxury buildings than anyone, including 15 Central Park West. A trio of his ultra-high towers — 520 Park Avenue, 30 Park Place and 220 Central Park South — are under construction.
Q: Where do the super-tall, skinny billionaire buildings fit into this vision?
It isn’t about the height, it’s about how you design the building and how you proportion each part. We try to combine elevations and windows that give you scale proportioned to human proportions so when you look up at the building, you can place yourself and your body metaphorically into the building. . . . 432 Park Avenue by the developer Harry Macklowe is a bit repetitious. It’s not what I would do. Our building, 30 Park Place, which includes a Four Seasons Hotel for Silverstein Properties next to the World Trade site, is a good example of a very tall and very slender building. It’s on the same block with the Woolworth Building, so it’s a daunting neighborhood, but it is masonry-clad with limestone and precast panels and it has details, is interesting looking, and will have a wonderful top.
Q: In the past, rich, poor and middle-income New Yorkers lived in the same integrated buildings. What do you think of the current mutation to a rich door/poor dynamic?
It’s one of the most complicated problems we have to solve. I am not a politician, and it is a political problem to some extent. I think methods of subsidizing apartments in buildings which have higher-income people in them is a good way. But it does have certain limitations . . . Manhattan used to be a place where you had very rich people along Park Avenue, then you would turn a side street in the 80s or 90s and the incomes would decline over towards York Avenue. There was a cross-section of class and social groups. We’ve lost some of that. There are still a lot of tenements, but they need to be rehabbed.
Q: As for the rich doors/poor doors . . .
The “poor door” and “rich door” is kind of a silly argument. Say I live on West End Avenue and someone else lives on West 70th Street around the corner. If they have a nice apartment and they can afford it and it is a safe building that’s well managed, they don’t have to enter the same lobby. I have no problem if they come in the same lobby with me either. You can have it either way. I have no answers but I am not unmindful of the seriousness of this discussion.