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Going Up, Way Up
Western Europe's tallest tower could have sheep grazing at its base
Fashion magnate Giorgio Armani’s flagship boutique in Manhattan, designed by Peter Marino Architect and opened in 1996, could be torn down to make way for a 12-story tower containing a new Armani store and 19 luxury condominiums above, including one for Armani himself, if the city approves the demolition.
New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission (LPC) has scheduled a hearing for next week to consider an application to raze the four-story Armani store at 760 Madison Avenue and portions of two apartment buildings next to it at 19 and 21 East 65th Street.
The Armani Group disclosed plans earlier this year to “reimagine” its Madison Avenue property, and now more details about the project are coming out, and getting scrutiny, as a result of recent filings with the preservation commission. They show that the project is far more extensive than a store renovation and would represent a significant change for a tony stretch of Madison Avenue.
The replacement project is a joint venture of The Armani Group and SL Green Realty Corp., the city’s largest commercial property owner. They say it will be “a milestone in Giorgio Armani’s journey into interior design.”
COOKFOX is the architect for the 83,000-square-foot replacement building and Higgins Quasebarth & Partners is the historic preservation consultant. Armani would design the residential interiors.
Armani is the sole occupant of the 23-year-old Armani building, which has a landscaped roof terrace. The first two levels are for women’s clothing and accessories, the third floor is the men’s department and the fourth floor is currently off-limits to shoppers. The symmetrical exterior, with an indentation on the Madison Avenue side, is clad in white stone and features street-level display windows.
Now 84, Armani commands a global empire that includes hotels and upscale housing as well as clothing, accessories, watches, jewelry, eyewear, cosmetics, perfume and furnishings. The one-time window dresser ranks No. 173 on the Forbes list of the world’s billionaires, with a “real time net worth” of $8.8 billion as of March 21, according to the publication.
Through his Armani/Casa Interior Design Studio, launched in 2004, the designer opened the Armani Hotel inside the Burj Khalifa skyscraper in Dubai and the Armani Hotel Milano in Italy and created luxury housing in Miami, London, Istanbul, Tel Aviv, and Beijing, among other cities. The Madison Avenue project would be his first residential project in New York City, and he has said he will live there.
Armani indicated in a statement released by the development team that he doesn’t regret tearing down his own building if it means he can construct an even more ambitious project at the corner of Madison and 65th.
“Madison Avenue is by definition an iconic luxury location,” he said. “In the 1980s, when I opened my first Giorgio Armani boutique in Manhattan, I chose this exclusive and refined area because it was perfect for the timeless elegance and attention to detail I wanted to communicate. Today, thirty years later, I still believe this place reflects my philosophy and my aesthetic vision.”
As proposed, the replacement tower will have an exterior of limestone and brick, with a series of setbacks and terraces that break up the massing and take advantage of views to nearby Central Park. In all, about 19,000 square feet will be devoted to retail space and about 66,000 square feet will be devoted to residences, and the average size of a residence is 3,516 square feet, according to permits filed with the city.
COOKFOX designed the replacement building to reflect the Armani aesthetic while fitting into the context of Madison Avenue, said principal Rick Cook.
“This special project is an opportunity to design a modern home for the next generation of Armani’s presence on Madison Avenue,” Cook said in a statement. “Our approach is to reinterpret the design sensibility of classic Madison Avenue building, like The Carlton House at 21 East 61st Street and 45 East 66th Street, to create a contemporary and iconic residence and retail building for both the Upper East Side historic district and the Armani brand.”
Marino, 69, founded Peter Marino Architect in 1978 and is well known for his work for arts- and fashion-oriented patrons. One of his early clients was artist Andy Warhol, who hired him to design a renovation of his townhouse on Manhattan’s Upper East Side and a home at 860 Broadway for his studio, The Factory.
Marino’s first retail commission was for the owners of Barneys New York, for whom he eventually designed 17 stores in the U. S. and Japan. He has designed stores for Calvin Klein, Donna Karan, Chanel, Dior, Fendi, Louis Vuitton, and Ermenegildo Zegna, among others.
The structures facing partial demolition were designed by Scott and Prescott and are described in LPC materials as vernacular buildings in the neo-Federal style. One dates from 1928-29 and the other was built in 1881 and altered in 1929. The applicants are seeking to “modify masonry openings, replace infill, and install a canopy at existing buildings.”
If their plan is approved, the developers say, they expect to begin construction in 2020 and open in 2023. The team has not disclosed a construction budget or name for the building.
An Upper East Side citizens group, Community Board 8, voted on February 20 to support the project. The city’s preservation commission has oversight because the three buildings are part of the Upper East Side Historic District, and any changes to building exteriors there must be approved by the panel. Its hearing is scheduled for March 26 in the LPC offices at 1 Centre Street.
that while colonization, with its techniques and its political and juridical weapons, obviously transported European models to other continents, it also had a considerable boomerang effect on the mechanisms of power in the West, and on the apparatuses, institutions, and techniques of power. A whole series of colonial models was brought back to the West, and the result was that the West could practice something resembling colonization, or an internal colonialism, on itself.“Firms like KPF and Foster take on these projects overseas where they can grow and practice working as larger firms,” said Todd Reisz, assistant professor at Yale, “Once they get big and good enough, they can bring these ideas about—how to make a city from the ground up—back home.” This is how New York’s Little Dubai came to be. The original Dubai was opened up to private land ownership in 2002 in an attempt to become a stable place post-9/11 for foreigners—especially Middle Easterners, Africans, and South Asians—to park their money. Special economic zones were established that allowed business and development to operate without the strict controls of Shariah that governed the rest of the UAE. In these economic zones, international trade was encouraged by specially crafted civil legal code geared specifically toward port businesses (foreign investment.) For example, a team of international consultants from mega-firm McKinsey advised the Dubai government in 2002 to draft a set of UK-style regulations for the Dubai International Financial Centre (DIFC) free zone, a “state within a state” that would operate with a different official currency—the U.S. dollar— and a different official language—English—than the rest of the UAE. It was designed by none other than architectural behemoth Gensler. This international managerial complex was the logical conclusion of some 300 years of colonial urbanization of developing nations around the world, perfected by the UAE government. Companies like Emaar and Dubai Holdings buy and develop enormous plots of land that serve as self-sustaining neighborhoods that don’t need to have much connection to their surroundings. Because of their sheer size, and the scale of the projects they oversee, these massive companies also obscure the relationship between public and private. In New York’s Little Dubai, a similar situation exists. The New York City Department of City Planning (DCP) acts a bit like the real estate state of the UAE, doing large rezonings and tax incentives to foster these big developments. Nearly 1 billion dollars in tax abatements were given to Related Cos., Little Dubai’s developer, in addition to nearly 4.6 million in infrastructure improvements and other incentives. And often, because of the private nature, DCP has little authority to begin with. Because the development is on state-owned land, there was no oversight from community boards. The parcel became part of a larger economic development strategy that usurps local regulation, leaving the citizens of New York City more-or-less out of the conversation. Little Dubai is regulated by a network of rules and capital that transcends physical territory, just like the “Old World” Dubai in UAE (this model is also being pursued by ultimate cloud-based dark-power-mongers Google in Toronto). This has led to a sort of Free Economic Zone, where Stephen M. Ross, Related’s chairman, is a sort of urban autocrat, pushing through what he wants when he wants. For example, in Little Dubai, Thomas Heatherwick’s 154-staircase monument Vessel was simply ordered for $200 million, shipped from Italy, and fastened together in about 18 months, with little in the way of design review or public process. It is not necessarily a bad thing, but it raises important questions. At 28 acres (0.042 sq miles, or 11 hectares), Little Dubai has the characteristics of an entire neighborhood, with its own circulation paths, central public space, and complete set of programmatic functions from retail, residential, commercial, “cultural,” and leisure/hospitality spaces carefully orchestrated in both plan and section. Dubai is a place where these large private developments have happened so fast that they do not relate to one another on the street-level. The piecemeal nature leaves hotels and malls and gated communities difficult to access because nothing was planned to connect at the street. While Dubai’s infrastructure haphazardly connects these megadevelopments with curls of spaghetti-like roads and onramps, Hudson Yards has similarly managed to bend New York’s infrastructure to its will—the 7 subway line was extended to the northern entrance to Little Dubai’s main plaza. Vessel and its counterpart, The Shed, occupy an important niche in the rich culture of Little Dubai: they serve as the attractors to get tourists to come and play, and thus spend money at retail options. Like the spectacular Dubai Aquarium, Dubai Frame, and man-made islands such as Palm Jumeirah, Vessel acts to bring attention to the place. The High Line is already doing this, but these new spectacles will bring in tourists en masse, possibly so much that this area will be like a cleaner and even less exciting Times Square. This centralization of power—via a marriage of government and private interests—gives power to consultants to plan whole districts, as well as ties together Little Dubai and its namesake (and the other countless cities like it). It should not come as a surprise that this is taking place in New York. In fact, it is a very New York phenomenon, as much of this type of culture was shipped from New York’s office towers (literally and metaphorically.) The process of globalization and the complete control of technocratic consultants has crystallized in spectacular fashion before our eyes in New York’s newest neighborhood, Little Dubai. What remains to be seen is how the local context will absorb this pseudo-neighborhood. What is scary for New Yorkers is that it seems like it is going to fit right into its place at the apex of the Highline.