We are building skyscrapers beyond our means. New York is the best example

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New York is the city that never sleeps, the city of great fortunes and yellow cabs zooming down Madison Avenue, the city of Central Park, Times Square and, of course, the Statue of Liberty. If there is something that defines the Big Apple, however, it is its enormous skyscrapers, the skyline of towers and antennas that began to take shape at the end of the 19th century with buildings such as the Park Row Building and continues to grow even today with the great constructions of Billionaires’ Row.

Standing at the foot of any of its towers, looking up and seeing how its facades are lost hundreds of meters above, in the clouds, is impressive. They were raised to demonstrate power and that is exactly what they evoke. At least from outside doors. Inside, some of the largest skyscrapers in New York, however, hide a different and much less known and epic reality: meters and more square meters of totally empty spaces.

Why? Well, due to a cocktail of factors, a sum of circumstances that the writer, critic and architect Pedro Torrijos recently unraveled, in part, through a long twitter thread.

The case of Billionaires’ Row. His name says it all. Billionaires’ Row is a set of luxury skyscrapers located in Manhattan, near Central Park. They stand out for two peculiarities: their slender figure and an even sharper price. To give you an idea, the local planning code establishes that a building is “thin” when its width/height ratio is 1:7. In Billionaires´Row there are towers of 1:8, 1:15 and 1:24, the incredible ratio of 111 West 57th Street, the “Steinway Tower”. In this last skyscraper you can find apartments for about 66 million dollars.

Despite its exceptional views of the Big Apple, a portion of the apartments on Billionaire’s Row are unoccupied. Many? In August 2021 new york post published a study which concluded that almost half of the luxury units in seven buildings were empty.

The specialized portal The B1M slide another interesting perspective: An analysis of ZIP codes reveals that nearly half of single-family homes and condominiums are not owner-occupied. In one of the zone codes the owner occupancy rate is actually 46% and in the other it is 54%. In the rest of the city the average value is around 75%.

Buy a home like someone who buys a Picasso. The amountcalculated by ATTOM Data, reflects a reality that is affected by The B1M and Torrijos himself: a significant part of those who buy skyscraper apartments do not do so to live in them and enjoy luxurious views every morning, but as an investment. “Right now we’re selling the 432 Park penthouse for $169 million. The owner has never been there and he’s an investment. He’s an asset. It’s like owning a Picasso.” explains to The B1M Ryan Serhant, luxury real estate broker.

As Serhant himself acknowledges, there are “many investor owners” on Billionaries’ Row, interested in a new class of luxury assets. “The amount of very rich people with that kind of money investing in the built environment is unprecedented,” says Matthew Soules, architect. There would be another option, of course, that part of these homes are rented; but the data is not available and the attractiveness of renting a flat for 100 million can also be questioned.

The heyday of housing "industrialized": more and more houses are being produced in factories

The risk of zombie urbanism. The risk of the phenomenon that seems to be taking place at least in part in Billionaires’ Row is that we reach what some experts call zombie urbanism, areas in which there are flats with an owner, but which are used as second or third homes… when not directly as real estate investments. in the purest style Walking DeadThey are alive and dead at the same time. The phenomenon occurs in other large metropolises, such as Paris, London or Melbourne.

The idea –reflects Sandra Seubertteacher of the Goethe University Frankfurt— is to reproduce a kind of “‘staged urbanism’ in which urban features are used as a means to sell, market and create a brand”. Proof of the degree of success of this “urban marketing”, which has one of its great exponents in Paris, is that while the notre dame fire mobilized hundreds of millions in donations, the National Museum of Rio barely raised 225,000 euros.

Going for more stylized skyscrapers… and juicier. Billionaires’ Row also leaves a magnificent example of how wealth is conditioning urban planning. Finding a plot to build on in Manhattan, where 1.6 million people are concentrated, is not easy. To get the most out of the terrain, the key is to get as much height as possible.

How? Well, resorting to different tricks that both Torrijos and The B1M and that give rise to buildings as slender as the Steinway Tower, only 18 meters wide and 435 meters high.

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Made the norm, made the trap. One of the solutions is for the promoters to take over the air rights (air rights) of surrounding properties, combine them and gain height. Another way to overcome the restrictions is to take advantage of the zoning of incentives —works that generate public benefits— or even the levels destined for facilities.

The best example of this second resource is perhaps 432 Park Avenue, a tower of more than 400 meters. The property draws attention because more or less a quarter of its homes are dedicated to equipment, such as an elevator, air conditioning, heating… A distribution that helps the property respond better to gusts of wind; but at the same time it favors its height: the floors for equipment do not count when calculating it.

the higher the better. The logic is pretty clear. When the project requires a considerable investment and space limitations prevent many houses from being built, the ones you can sell must be expensive. Very expensive. If even above you are a stone’s throw from Central Park, as in Billionaires’ Row, and you can offer privileged views, the interest of the height is greater.

We have a new ally to build skyscrapers that already competes with steel and concrete: wood

A market that is no stranger to ups and downs. Although it is true that at least part of the empty apartments in skyscrapers are empty due to the profile of their owners, investors who acquire them as a second and third residence or even directly as an economic asset, it is no less so than the residential market in the large towers it is also subject to the fluctuations of the market. In August 2021 an analysis of serhant pointed out that in August 2021 there was still a significant part of unsold apartments with a value of 6,700 million dollars.

The study points out that of the 722 Billionaires’ Row condominiums, around 44%, 341, were still available. The reasons? new york post points to the high supply and even an excess of optimism. “There was just too much inventory built up. No one knows how broad the pool of buyers is for these properties. They raised money, rosy projections and built buildings, but they didn’t sell. They were too expensive and in some buildings the only good views are too far.” tall”, says Donna Olshanof Olshan Realty.

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…And exposed to external factors. Just before the pandemic, in January 2020, New York Times revealed that about half of the apartments in luxury towers in Manhattan that had risen over the last five years were still on the market. In their day, real estate was built with foreign fortunes, oligarchs and tycoons interested in acquiring a second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth… home in the Big Apple. The problem is that this scenario ended up being complicated by a series of circumstances that muddied the market.

The slowdown in the Chinese economy and the authorities’ campaign to prevent luxury real estate from being used for money laundering —remember Atlantic— reduced demand.

The problem is ironic, sadly ironic, in a city with a huge affordable housing deficit, which has seen home sales prices double in many neighborhoods in a matter of a decade and where, at least in 2020, there were approximately 80,000 people sleeping in homeless shelters or out in the open on the streets.

Images | Itrytohelp32 (Wikipedia), Digby Dalton (Wikipedia) Y Bill Benzon (Flickr)

New York is the city that never sleeps, the city of great fortunes and yellow cabs zooming down Madison Avenue,…

New York is the city that never sleeps, the city of great fortunes and yellow cabs zooming down Madison Avenue,…

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