Before Mayor Michael Bloomberg headed for a press confab unveiling Christo’s Gates installation in Central Park, he first celebrated a far more permanent design feat — the new Hearst Tower on West 58th Street, which was topped off Feb. 11 with its final piece of steel.
Project by project, media and entertainment congloms are reshaping the skyline of Gotham. Some are even breaking the decades-old conservative stranglehold on commercial design.
Three of the world’s most forward-thinking architects are in on the action.
Norman Foster designed the $500 million Hearst Tower, adding a glass-and-steel exoskeleton onto the facade of William Randolph Hearst’s original 1927 headquarters. Foster — who attended the Feb. 11 ceremony with Bloomberg and New York Gov. George Pataki — is known for such “interventions.” He also renewed the Berlin Reichstag as the new home of the German Parliament.
Renzo Piano is architect of the New York Times’ Eighth Avenue skyscraper project, drawing up new headquarters for the Gray Lady that will have a clear glass curtain screened by slender ceramic tubes jutting through the roof line. Project is the architect’s first major commercial endeavor in New York.
Not too far away, Frank Gehry is designing the headquarters for Barry Diller’s IAC/InterActiveCorp in Chelsea.
All three projects are skedded to be completed next year.
Kitty-corner from the Hearst Tower is the year-old $1.8 billion Time Warner Center commercial complex at Columbus Center.
Crix nix twin sticks
Critics don’t laud the twin-tower skyscraper development — designed by David Childs at Skidmore, Owings & Merrill — the same way they do Foster’s Hearst Tower or Piano’s blueprints for the Times’ new home, but they agree the commercial behemoth deserves its place in this emerging pantheon of buildings.
“There is a new openness to more international thinking about architecture,” said Philip Pitruzzello, the conglom’s VP of real estate and facilities management. “Also, part of what is going on is a reaffirmation that New York is the home to major media companies like Time Warner.”
A century ago, New York’s richest industrialists powered the skyscraper race. This new movement comes in all shapes and sizes: Diller’s building, with its sculpted glass facade, will be only nine stories when completed next year, while the Times building will be the city’s third-tallest after the Empire State Building and the yet-to-be completed Bank of America Tower at Bryant Park. (The Times building will drop to fourth when the Freedom Tower goes up.)
If there’s a unifying theme to the various projects, it is immense amounts of clear glass, innovative materials (such as Piano’s ceramic tubes) and “green” environments (energy-efficient, with great attention to lighting, heating and cooling).
The media crowd is leading the way thanks to massive consolidation in the biz, which often requires bringing scattered divisions under one roof. And there’s probably no better investment than owning land in New York.
Already established members of this new class are the Conde Nast Building, the Reuters Tower and Random House headquarters.
“The motivation was really to be more ambitious than all of us living inside of a box,” Diller said of the company’s decision to give up its leased offices in Midtown and build a home. Diller wouldn’t say how much the project will cost.
When the 42-story Hearst Tower is completed, 1,800 employees scattered across nine different locations in Manhattan will move there.
“The more that you are able to create a place where the light is correct, the air is correct, the computers are all topnotch, the more you allow people to do what they do best — create,” said Hearst director of real estate Brian Schwagerl.
“That’s why a lot of these companies are going forward like they are,” adds Schwagerl, who holds a monthly luncheon for his real estate counterparts at TW and the New York Times to talk about construction progress.
Keeping out public
With a few exceptions — think NBC and Rockefeller Center — most media and entertainment companies seek to be insulated from the living, breathing public when mapping a new home. But TW broke with tradition by partnering with private developers to build the Columbus Circle complex, which includes a shopping mall, a basement-level Whole Foods, a bevy of pricey restaurants, Jazz at Lincoln Center, luxury penthouses and the five-star Mandarin Oriental Hotel.
The media conglom, which owns roughly a third of the complex, essentially designed a building within a building for some 9,000 staffers (rest assured, they have their own entrance). TW said it never could have secured the site on its own.
“By partnering with private parties, we were able to get a custom-tailored building and an ideal mix of uses that would have been impossible to finance alone,” Pitruzzello said.
The center has taken its share of knocks for catering to the very rich — restaurant Masa automatically charges $100 for a reservation cancellation — but most can afford a ticket to Jazz at Lincoln Center or midlevel mall shops like Sephora and Borders.
The Times also is partnering with private developers, in this case Forest City Ratner and ING Real Estate.
That project is likewise mixed-use, although it will be more attuned to culture than commerce, offering an open pedestrian space, a garden and a 350-seat amphitheater that will be available to nonprofit and civic groups 104 nights a year. Fox & Fowle, architect of the Conde Nast Building, is Piano’s partner on the project.
“You’ll be able to see people inside working. You will have a lot of openness and a lot of light — things that reinforce our culture at the newspaper,” said New York Times Co. vice chair Michael Golden.
Across town at East 58th Street and Lexington Avenue, architect Cesar Pelli designed the just-completed 731 Lexington project, another mixed-use development whose skyscraper tower is the new home to Bloomberg’s news operations.
Bloomberg is a tenant, not an owner. Aside from the luxury penthouses, the complex is decidedly more pedestrian than the Time Warner Center when it comes to retail, housing European clothing retailer H&M and a soon-to-open Home Depot.
New York lost its chief building anchor when the World Trade Center was destroyed in the 9/11 terrorist attacks. The Hearst Tower was the first project to break ground after 9/11, a fact that was highlighted at the Feb. 11 celebration.
“We looked for a breathtaking design,” Schwagerl said. “Something that was different, something that paid homage to Mr. Hearst and something that left a legacy to New York.”
It remains to be seen what the collective legacy of these new media monoliths will be. Like the industrialists of old, today’s moguls clearly yearn to reshape the physical landscape as they alter the media landscape.