Circle's towers start to tower
- The New York Times, By DAVID W. DUNLAP,
Published: March 3, 2002
Shortly before noon
last Wednesday, as Wynton Marsalis led six members of the
Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra in a rousing "Buddy Bolden's
Blues," a steel beam was hoisted into the snowy skies
over Columbus Circle on its way up to the south tower of AOL
Time Warner Center.
It was, in almost every
respect, a proper topping-out. The beam was ornamented with
a small evergreen and a flag, as tradition dictates. Tribute
was paid to the 400 workers who went to ground zero on the
night of Sept. 11. The mayor made a little speech. Camelhair
coats and hard hats mingled.
Just one thing about this
topping out: the building isn't even half its ultimate height.
"This is the structural
equivalent of a 1.8 million-square-foot office building and
we're only about 350 feet high," said Stephen M. Ross,
chairman and chief executive of the Related Companies, who
is developing the $1.7 billion project with William L. Mack
of Apollo Real Estate Advisors and Kenneth A. Himmel of the
What was topped out Wednesday
was the superstructure of a steel podium that will one day
contain the first permanent home for Jazz at the Lincoln Center,
AOL Time Warner headquarters, CNN and CNNfn studios and a
multilevel shopping and restaurant arcade.
Still to come atop the steel
framework are two concrete towers containing 198 condominium
apartments and a 251-room Mandarin Oriental Hotel. These twins
will reach a height of 53 stories, or 750 feet. Each will
weigh about 84 million pounds, even before the Sub-Zero refrigerators
"We look forward to
having you back in 18 months when we finish the building,"
Mr. Ross told several hundred people who gathered in the shell
of the Allen Room, one of three performance spaces for Jazz
at Lincoln Center, 80 feet above ground. The room will have
a glass wall on its east end overlooking Columbus Circle through
an even larger cable-net glass wall beyond. That larger wall
that will create a portal at the end of 59th Street that is
almost tall enough to accommodate two Washington Arches stacked
one atop the other. This opening bisects a gently curving
450-foot-long shopping arcade that runs from 58th to 60th
Street, crisscrossed by foot bridges at the third and fourth
There is room in the 347,000-square-foot
retail gallery, called the Palladium, for six restaurants
and up to 60 shops. To date, 11 tenants have signed leases
for 101,000 square feet, five of them since Sept. 11.
Sixty apartments in the
towers, known as 1 Central Park, have been sold, 40 of them
since Sept. 11. Among those available are a full-floor, 8,332-square-foot
apartment for $27 million and a 1,283-square-foot, two bedroom
apartment for $1.8 million.
Although Mr. Mack said in
an interview last week that the developers were "very
optimistic that this will be extremely successful," he
could not help joking on Wednesday that the real purpose of
the ceremony was to find more tenants. "We have a lot
of prospects for retail and condominiums," he told the
crowd, "so look around. It's great."
AOL Time Warner Center has
survived one challenge already. The Committee for Environmentally
Sound Development, a neighborhood group, sued last year to
stop or modify the project on the grounds that it far exceeded
the scope of construction contemplated in a 1997 environmental
The center is to have a
gross floor area of nearly 2.8 million square feet. The developers
maintain that if the project is measured by zoning rules,
which do not count mechanical and basement space, it will
have 2.1 million square feet, as required.
On Dec. 21, Justice Rosalyn
Richter of State Supreme Court ruled that the evidence refuted
the opponents' claim that the project will violate the 2.1
million square foot limit. But she also reminded city officials
that "some government agency must have the responsibility
to ensure that this building, which is still far from completion,
does not exceed the limitations."
And that will be impossible,
said the opponents' lawyer, James J. Periconi of Windels Marx
Lane & Mittendorf, because the city waived a requirement
that the developers furnish the dimensions of the spaces to
be built. Instead, it accepted the developers' own calculations
of floor area. "We believe that the Department of Buildings
has never checked the accuracy of any of the figures because
it lacks the information with which to do so," Mr. Periconi
said. "So really, no one can say that the project does
not exceed 2.1 million square feet." He has asked the
court to reconsider its decision.
Although the Buildings Department
would not respond in detail because the case is still pending,
a spokeswoman, Ilyse Fink, said, "The information provided
by the applicant is sufficient to satisfy us that the limitations
imposed by zoning and the environmental review have not been
While the legal battle plays
out, the project continues to advance. Crews have erected
22,500 tons of steel since groundbreaking 330 days ago, laid
1.5 million square feet of decking and poured 50,000 cubic
yards of concrete, said Peter Marchetto, the northeast regional
president of Bovis Lend Lease, the overall construction manager.
Its is all made possible
by a $1.3 billion loan from the GMAC Commercial Mortgage Corporation
that closed just six weeks before the attack on New York.
The balance of the financing, $400 million in equity, comes
from Related, AOL Time Warner, Mandarin Oriental and two Apollo
entities whose partners include state and corporate pension
funds, college and other private endowments and wealthy individuals.
Of the five retail leases
signed since Sept. 11, one is for the largest single block
of space yet: a 32,000-square-foot Equinox Fitness Club. Others
are a 12,500-square-foot restaurant by Thomas Keller, chef
and owner of the French Laundry in Napa Valley; a 5,300-square-foot
Cole Haan shoe store; and two small body and beauty shops.
Jean Georges Vongerichten will have a 9,000-square-foot steakhouse.
The apparel stores Hugo Boss, J. Crew, Joseph Abboud, A/X
Armani Exchange and Eileen Fisher have 41,000 square feet
among them. In three to four months, Mr. Himmel said, the
Palladium space should be 75 percent leased.
AOL Time Warner is "very
happy with the progress of the construction," said Philip
R. Pitruzzello, vice president for real estate projects. Two
years from now, 2,000 employees will be working at the center,
which will include corporate headquarters, CNN and CNNfn studios,
CNN offices, the CNN New York bureau and the Turner Broadcasting
advertising sales office.
The tone is upbeat at Jazz
at Lincoln Center. "After Sept. 11, things got very quiet
in the philanthropic world," said Jonathan F.P. Rose,
the chairman of the building committee. "They have, at
least for Jazz at Lincoln Center, come back. Our donors have
seen stability return to the world."
Jazz at Lincoln Center is
receiving the 100,000-square-foot core and shell at no cost
but is responsible for completing it at a cost of $115 million.
About $82 million has been raised so far, Mr. Rose said. The
entire space will be called Frederick P. Rose Hall in honor
of his father, a developor and a major philanthropist, who
died in 1999.
It helps immeasurably that
donors can begin to see what it is they are paying for. "It
even looks pretty without anything in it," said Mr. Marsalis,
the artistic director of Jazz at Lincoln Center, as he prepared
to christen the place with music.
On his brief visit last
week, Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg called the hall a "seminal
event in the history of jazz."
The Allen Room, named in
honor of Allen & Company, will accommodate 300 to 600
people. Couples on the dance floor will be able to gaze over
Central Park to the twinkling towers of the Upper East Side.
Outside the Allen Room will
be the Ertegun Jazz Hall of Fame, named in honor of the record
producer Nesuhi Ertegun, who died in 1989, by the donors,
Ahmet and Mica Ertegun. The Jazz Cafe is thus far unnamed,
though a gift of $8 million to $10 million could change that.
A full-scale theater, also called Frederick P. Rose Hall,
will seat as many as 1,230, with two tiers of horseshow balconies
and a 60-foot fly loft.
The 1,200-ton auditorium
structure is isolated from the rest of AOL Time Warner Center
on a field of 26 large pads atop concrete footings. These
giant gaskets are nine-and-a-half-inch sandwiches of steel
plates and a synthetic Neoprene rubber. There are smaller
Neoprene pads between the sides of the auditorium and the
surrounding walls, a distance of two to three inches, to stabilize
the inner structure.
"The analogy is a small
carboard box in a larger cardboard box packed with Styrofoam
peanuts," said Steven H. Sommer, senior vice president
of Bovis Lend Lease and the construction project director.
Although Bovis has overall
responsibility, it is not the only construction manager. Turner
Construction will complete Jazz at Lincoln Center and AOL
Time Warner headquarters after Bovis builds the core and shell.
There are 80 to 100 subcontractors and about 1,200 workers
now on the job.
"This is not one building,"
said Silvian Marcus, executive vice president of the Cantor
Seinuk Group, the overall structural engineers on the project.
"These are five buildings stacked on top of each other
with five users. Each user has his own architect and each
wants to maximize his space."
David M. Childs of Skidmore,
Owings & Merrill led the overall design. Rafael Viñoly
Architects designed Jazz at Lincoln Center; Perkins &
Will, the AOL Time Warner headquarters; Elkus/Manfredi Architets,
the Palladium; Brennan Beer Gorman Architects and Hirsch Bedner
Associates, the Mandarin Oriental Hotel; and Ismael Leyva
Architects and Thad Hayes, 1 Central Park.
"When I began this
work, I was a younger man with much darker hair," a gray-haired
Mr. Childs said at the topping out. "And about one inch
AOL Time Warner Center is
so complex that it does not even have something as elemental
as one single uninterrupted column line from bottom to top.
Instead, column positions
change constantly as they run through the structure to accommodate
the needs of every space they penetrate: 60 foot clear spans
for the CNN studios, 45-foot clear spans for the AOL Time
Warner offices, 20-foot spans and four different floor plans
in the residential towers. They have to skirt the theater
and cannot land smack in the middle of a highpriced retail
space, nor can they interfere with any one of the building's
Because the columns shift
in location, the loads they carry must also be transferred
from one area to another. That is accomplished by the use
of angled steel columns, stepped concrete columns and even
hanging columns, suspended from the truss above rather than
rising from footings below.
Most noticeable are the
concrete-clad steel trusses, massive and rigid enough to support
more than 42,000 tons, taking shape on the 22nd and 23rd floors
of the south tower (starting 314 feet above the street) and
the 17th floor of the north tower (starting 248 feet above
They are, in essence, foundations
in the sky, taking the weight of the concrete towers and spreading
it to the exterior columns and core below. But they are not
merely structural elements. Threaded through the angled steel
girders in the trusses will be pipes, ductwork, elevator machinery
and passageways leading from the tower stairwells to the podium
It is hard, at first, to
envision the process of "pouring" concrete hundreds
of feet in the sky, but Mr. Sommer pointed to several four-inch
riser pipes snaking through the structure. Through these risers,
a highly viscous concrete mixture is pumped under high pressure
into the waiting forms above.
Contrasting with the massiveness
of the structure will be the membranous glass and cable net
wall suspended from a white truss that is already in place
over the central portal. It was designed by James Carpenter
Design Associates and engineered by William F. Baker of Skidmore,
Owings & Merrill and Jorg Schlaich of Schlaich Bergermann
und Partner in Germany.
At a height of 149 feet
and a width of 86 feet, it will be the largest such glass
wall in the world, Mr. Carpenter said. "its goal is to
be delicate, transparent and diaphanous as possible,"
he said, "both to afford views in and simultaneously
The wall will be made of
stainless-steel cables spaced seven-and-a-half feet vertically
and four-and-a-half feet horizontally. Within this net will
be laminated panels of water-clear glass, three-quarters of
an inch thick, designed to stay in their frames if broken.
The whole net will move ever so subtly under wind pressure.
Such an open spirit may seem to contrast with the security-conscious
tenor of the times, but Mr. Carpenter said, "You're not
going to be designing to a bunker mentality."
Yet there is no getting
around a question so sensitive that it is discussed in lowered
voices, if it is talked about at all: just how perilous is
it to be building an iconic twin-tower skyscraper these days?
The engineers and construction
managers answer confidently. "The building is safe,"
Mr. Marcus said. "We have two concrete backbones supported
At the heart of each tower
is a concrete core, 40 feet wide and 140 feet long, with walls
two feet thick at the base, reaching down to Manhattan schist.
"None of the buildings on Sept. 11 had concrete cores
of this magnitude," he said. Concrete towers stand up
better to dynamic forces."
That is not to say that
the project is unaffected by Sept. 11. Among other measures,
security systems will be upgraded, especially in entrances
to the loading docks and underground garage, said Bruce L.
Warwick, president of Columbus Center L.L.C., which is overseeing
As a structural augmentation,
Mr. Marcus said, the amount of concrete cladding has been
increased around the major columns, called boomers. But the
concept is not new. "The original design always indicated
that the boomer columns were to be encased in concrete,"
Mr. Sommer said. "You can't do any better. People ask,
'What can you do?' We've already done it."
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