67-Story Tower Will 'Unbury' Views of Grand Central, Architect Says

By Heather Holland on July 7, 2014 7:04am 

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  Proposed 67-story tower near Grand Central to feature glass facade, mounted landscapes, and public room.
1 Vanderbilt Ave.
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MIDTOWN EAST — An architect designing a 67-story glass tower across from Grand Central Terminal has promised the project will create new views of the iconic train station.

The proposed design of 1 Vanderbilt Ave. includes an extra-transparent facade that has been set back at an angle on 42nd Street and will offer a glimpse of Grand Central that's currently hidden by shorter buildings, said James von Klemperer, a principal at Kohn Pedersen Fox Associates.

“Early on, our objective was to replace these [existing buildings] with a clear view of the corner of the terminal, which does not exist today,” he said.

“Grand Central Terminal is a beautiful building and, the more we can see it, the more exciting it is. It’s unburying something.”

The tower — which is expected to rise 1,300 feet, not including its 75-foot spire — will mostly be made of a low-iron super clear glass, similar to what was used for the Fifth Avenue Apple cube, Klemperer said.

It will be broken up by diagonal stripes in a champagne color, designed to recall the train station across the street.

“To reference the typical masonry walls seen in Grand Central Terminal, we’ll have diagonal shapes of terracotta that’s been double-glazed to have a fine lustrous look to the surface,” said Klemperer.  “The warm orange, bronze materials make it a modern inheritor of the existing terminal.”

The facade will also feature a narrow strip of live plants running diagonally from the first to second floor, Klemperer said.

The design got mixed reviews when Klemperer presented it to Community Board 5’s landmarks committee on July 1, though the committee ultimately voted to approve the design.

Committee member Renee Cafaro said the building was too busy and distracted attention away from the rest of neighborhood.

“This is a textbook example of unharmonious,” Cafaro said. “To say that some terracotta stripes make it comparable to the contextual architecture of Grand Central Terminal is a slap in the face.

“I don’t see how it’s hearkening to anything around it. It’s just distracting.”

But the majority of members, including John B. Harris Jr., said the design of the building would improve the area.

“The city must remain relevant,” said Harris. “If you study the history of Grand Central Terminal or the Chrysler Building, they were extraordinary and revolutionary for their time. This is a significant improvement.

“The biggest question is, 'If not this, then what?'”

Other design features include an amenity space and a terrace on the third floor overlooking Grand Central that could be used for dining or a training room, Klemperer said.

A 6,000-square-foot public room on the ground floor will include public art, indoor greenery and a waiting area, Klemperer said.

An entry/exit point for the East Side Access terminal will also be incorporated into the public space. A pedestrian plaza has been proposed as well but wasn’t included in the initial designs, according to Stephen Lefkowitz, an attorney representing SL Green, the developer.

The design also includes a truck bay elevator that will bring vehicles down into the basement to load and unload, freeing up space on the street, Klemperer said.

“It’s a pretty costly and site-respectful [design],” said Klemperer. “It’s the cat’s meow of truck treatments.”

In 2009, the Landmarks Preservation Commision approved the transfer of air rights from the landmarked former Bowery Saving Bank on 42nd Street to 1 Vanderbilt Ave.

SL Green is currently seeking a special permit from the City Planning Department to expand the building's floor-area ratio, which would allow a bigger building. The current zoning allows for a maximum of 216,000 square feet, and the developer is seeking to increase the cap to 300,000 square feet, according to a Draft Scope of Work for the project.

In exchange, the developer would agree to make public improvements, including adding new subway access points, new commuter rail access points, an interior public room and the public plaza on Vanderbilt Avenue.

City Planning will hold a scoping hearing for the application on July 16, and then it will have to go through the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which includes reviews by the community board, borough president, City Planning Commission, City Council and the mayor.

The building is expected to be completed by December 2020, according to the project's Draft Scope of Work, but the developer said the date was still tentative.

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