The hell of the former world' s tallest and most luxurious residential skyscraper

07/02/2021

It was the tallest and most luxurious residential skyscraper in the world, but now its owners in New York are living a nightmare. The imposing building designed by Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly became a living hell for its millionaire owners: elevator problems, floods and terrifying creaking noises in the structure.

The tower at 432 Park Avenue became the world's tallest residential building in 2015. It has already been surpassed by a newcomer on New York's Billionaire's Row in midtown Manhattan, but it remains one of the most expensive apartment buildings in the world.

The nearly 426-meter-tall tower at 432 Park Avenue, which became the world's tallest residential building in 2015, was the pinnacle of New York's luxury condo boom half a decade ago, driven largely by foreign buyers seeking discretion and big profits. Six years later, residents of the exclusive tower are now at odds with developers - and each other - making it clear that even multimillion-dollar prices don't guarantee hassle-free living.

The skyscraper, which stands out with its slender structure in the jumble of buildings on Manhattan Island, cost $3.1 billion to build. Among its best-known residents are Saudi tycoon Fawaz Alhokair, who bought a penthouse on the 96th floor for USD 88 million, and Jennifer Lopez and Alex Rodriguez, who bought an apartment in 2018 and a year later put it up for sale.

Now, the owners of the towering Rafael Viñoly-designed high-rise told how the promises of luxury, gorgeous views and pharonic amenities turned out to be a fiasco. Floods, cracks in the walls, plumbing breakdowns and terrifying creaks emanating from the walls... A far cry from the promised picture.

According to a New York Times report, complaints have been mounting as engineering problems plague the narrow skyscraper. On Oct. 31, 2019, a resident was trapped in an elevator in the 96-story tower for nearly an hour and a half during high winds.

Homeowners also complained of loud popping and banging noises in their homes, possibly because of metal partitions shifting or air hissing through elevator shafts. And on the upper floors, flooding "is catastrophic."

Designed by New York-based Uruguayan architect Rafael Viñoly for developers Macklowe Properties and CIM Group, 432 Park Avenue was completed in late 2015. The project's construction manager was international giant Lendlease.

In 2016, the buyer of 84B - an apartment covering half the floor - reported "catastrophic flooding" that ended up damaging floors 83 and 86 as well. Disillusioned, and outraged, he decided to get rid of it. The semi was finally sold in 2017 for USD 44.6 million.

Two more devastating floods were recorded in 2018: on November 22, a flange broke off around a high-pressure water pipe serving the 60th floor, and just four days later another pipe failed on the 74th floor. There was so much water everywhere that it even flooded the shafts of two of the four residential elevators... In a premium building you had to stand in line to get upstairs.

"I was convinced it would be the best building in New York," Sarina Abramovich, one of the first residents of 432 Park, complained to the NYT. "They're still selling it as God's gift to the world, and it's not," she insists indignantly.

Abramovich and her husband, retired oil and gas industry businessmen, bought a 325-square-meter apartment there for nearly USD 17 million in 2016. The luxurious property was meant to be their "secondary home," closer to their adult children who have lived in the city for years. But when moving day came, neither the building nor the apartment were finished. "They put me in a freight elevator surrounded by steel plates and plywood, with a hard hat operator," she recounted still upset. "That's how I got up to my luxury apartment," she ironized.

The problems worsened with use, and included "several floods". On one occasion, water entered Abramovich's apartment from several floors above, causing some $500,000 worth of damage.

The nightmare doesn't end with plumbers and workmen working on his home, Abramovich says, but there are days when she feels a terrifying "swaying in the wind". The building, more than 300 meters high, can sway several centimeters on a day with normal winds.

On days with winds of 80 kilometers per hour, such a tower can move approximately 15 centimeters. In the rare case of gusts of 170 kilometers per hour, this structure could move up to 60 centimeters, the New York Times reported.

By comparison, the iconic Empire State Building in New York, with a height of 381 meters, is supposed to move approximately 2.5 centimeters in fast winds. In another example, Chicago's 442-meter-tall Willis Tower has an average sway of 7 centimeters from its "true center."

Wind sway is especially pronounced in "pencil towers" super-tall buildings that are also super-thin. In the case of 432 Park Avenue, the height-to-width ratio is reportedly 15:1. The real estate website Curbed New York explained that "to put it in perspective, if you put a standard ruler on its end, it has a 12:1 ratio." Another simpler way to measure it: the Empire State Building is 129 meters wide, while 432 Park Avenue, is just over 90 meters wide.

In a statement, Lendlease, the construction manager, said, "As a leading builder in the industry, Lendlease is always committed to delivering its projects safely and to the highest specified standards. We have been in contact with our client regarding some tenant feedback, which we are currently assessing. We are unable to provide further details at this time as we are in the midst of this review."

One of the companies in charge of the development of the project, CIM Group, assured that the construction and design of the building was successful, so much so that all apartments sold out quickly. "Like all new construction, there are some hiccups with maintenance," the company told the U.S. newspaper.

But while builders and developers do not assume mistakes, Viñoly himself apologized in 2016. He spoke of "screw-ups" in the tower's interior design but declined to comment further.

The most common complaints have to do with noise. Residents hear groaning from the metal partitions between the walls as the buildings sway. In addition, they reported the ghostly hiss of rushing air in doorways and elevator shafts...Owners' meetings are explosive at 432 Park Avenue.

By Mexicanist