Magazine article The New Yorker

On the Waterfront; the Sky Line

Magazine article The New Yorker

On the Waterfront; the Sky Line

Article excerpt

If you stand on Eleventh Avenue in the upper Thirties and look south, the new forty-story Goldman Sachs building in Jersey City, on the other side of the Hudson, appears to be at the end of the street. The intimate connection created by the optical illusion (Manhattan starts angling eastward at about Twenty-third Street) works both ways. If you stand at the corner of Grand and Washington Streets in Jersey City, a couple of blocks from the waterfront, the river has pretty much disappeared, and the Woolworth Building looks as if it were just a short walk away. The Goldman Sachs tower, which was designed by Cesar Pelli, is the tallest skyscraper in New Jersey, and, with its graceful profile and elegant glass facade, the most beautiful. You could also say that it is one of the most important new pieces of architecture in lower Manhattan. To just about everyone except the tax authorities, the Jersey City waterfront is a part of New York. Pelli's tower is the anchor of a new city, a kind of Shanghai on the Hudson, that has sprung up over the past decade on what was once industrial land. It is an enormous complex--by far the largest cluster of skyscrapers in the region outside Manhattan.

Pelli has come closer than most architects to figuring out a way to design a skyscraper that expresses both height and dignity and doesn't seem to be an imitation of the romantic towers of the nineteen-thirties. He started out making buildings, such as the tower above the Museum of Modern Art in Manhattan, that were attempts to reinvent the skyscraper as a pattern of glass, and he moved on to buildings, such as the World Financial Center and Carnegie Hall Tower, that leaned too heavily on older skyscraper forms. Now he has transcended both his first modern period and his retro period. Like the tower Pelli just finished for Bloomberg on the upper East Side, the Goldman Sachs building mixes a classic modern look with soft, flowing lines. The building's profile is telescoped, and its corners are cut into a series of small steps, which both reduces the visual impact of the tower's bulk and provides a plethora of corner offices. The facade consists of a pattern of metal lines set over glass, making for a rich, warm texture. The building is the only grace note on the Jersey City skyline.

It took a long time for Jersey City to reach the point where someone would want to put up a building as good as this one. The first developer to realize that you could exploit Jersey City as an extension of Manhattan was Sam LeFrak. In the late nineteen-seventies, LeFrak built Gateway Plaza, a set of concrete towers in Battery Park City that have none of the architectural gentility of the rest of the complex, which was constructed later by other developers under a different master plan. After dropping out of the Battery Park City project, LeFrak joined forces with Melvin Simon, a shopping-center developer who was seeking a partner to build a mall in Jersey City. LeFrak shifted his attention across the river, and in the mid-eighties, on a portion of the Jersey City waterfront he named Newport, he built not only the giant shopping mall that Simon had envisioned but also a cluster of high-rise residential towers and some glass office buildings. It is a dreary assemblage, but it was a big hit. Compared with real estate in Manhattan, the towers were inexpensive to build and inexpensive to rent, and LeFrak could promise tenants all the shopping they wanted, along with spectacular river views, one transit stop away from Wall Street--or just a few steps away from their desks, if they happened to work for the financial firms that had moved their back offices into Newport's commercial buildings.

The Newport towers--among which are two named the Southampton and the East Hampton--were placed behind gated guardhouses around a small central plaza in front of a huge parking garage. Newport is less a city than a suburbanite's idea of what a city might be if all the unpleasant people went away. …

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