Stern’s presumptuousness may owe something to the huge attention and acclaim that attended upon 15 Central Park West, the luxury condo he designed for the Zeckendorf Brothers. Based on classic prewar apartment buildings by Rosario Candela, the project is probably the biggest real estate phenomenon New York has ever seen. Quarterly New York real estate reports had to be adjusted to factor out the distorting influence of its astronomical sales. The website Curbed took to calling it the “limestone Jesus”. At a time when New York developers were finally hiring serious architects like Richard Meier and Jean Nouvel to generate appeal, 15 CPW might have been seen as the ultimate vindication for architecture’s claims to create value. For architects who take their profession seriously, though, it was disappointing that what made the project so successful wasn’t the kind of quality that imagination can make out of thin air, but Stern’s accurate sense of what investment bankers want, and how many times over the building’s limestone cladding paid for itself.
For a Vanity Fair article on 15 Central Park West, Stern posed atop its concierge desk, weakly mimicking the classic image of an urbanely macho Robert Moses poised on an I-beam over the East River. Stern shares Moses’ ego, if not his public mission, a distinction emphasized by this photo’s gated setting. What lies beyond is for the privileged few.
Arnold Newman’s 1959 photo serves as the cover for Robert Moses and the Modern City. Moses famously said “you can’t make an omelet without breaking eggs.” Unlike Stern’s, his omelets were for everyone’s consumption. What lies beyond is a public realm. (more…)