Landmark of the future...
March 9, 2004
Builder Whose Cubes Are Definitely Not Square
By ROBIN FINN
DOES the man make the building or does the building make the man? When the man in question is happily canoodling with the white plastic model of a sylphlike 835-foot-tall tower he wants to build, the answer seems to be: both.
What the world needs now, according to Frank J. Sciame Jr., a fast-talking, Brooklyn-born builder/developer with a knack for turning moldy heaps of historic brick into South Street Seaport area reclamation projects, isn't love, sweet or otherwise. And it isn't more architectural paeans to the past - though don't get him wrong, he still loves sprucing up historic sites. His repertory includes the New Victory Theater and Central Synagogue. You don't make it onto the board of the New York Landmarks Conservancy without a sentimental side; this is a guy who saved the childhood toy, a vintage Erector set, that hooked him on this business in the first place.
"Hey, I still have great respect for historic buildings and for history," he says, straightening his glossy purple tie against the white shirt that complements his Florida tan (he moors his powerboat, Competitive Bid 3, there). "What other developer would forgo the available air rights in order to be true to historic scale the way we're doing on Front Street? But you've also got to build the landmarks of the future: the way I see it, it's almost a responsibility."
So it's Mr. Sciame's most futuristic, and costliest, project that has him smitten, a structure that has no precedent in the United States and whose frontier mood is attributable to the post-Sept. 11 phoenix syndrome that infects him. He intends to stack a dozen or so celestial apartments atop a cultural center to accentuate what he considers to be the under-decorated airspace above the East River, a gossamer sculpture of see-through cubes with high art aspirations and a price tag to match. He's so sure this is what New York City needs that he's displacing, then demolishing, his own company headquarters on South Street to make it happen.
And how much will it cost him to build the Santiago Calatrava-designed extravaganza that attracted the oohs, ahs and apparent enthusiasm of city planning officials and couture architects alike last week when its blueprints were unveiled, and will, he predicts, become a 21st-century icon of the renaissance of downtown Manhattan?
He hems, haws, and caves. "In excess of $100 million," he says, breaking into a light sweat as he removes his suit jacket. "I wouldn't have been as confident and excited about this building, maybe, before 9/11, but with New York showing that it's going to rebuild downtown better than ever, and to stand proud, this just seems like the right building for the right time." And, he insists, it is so not a vanity project: "It may make a statement, but it's not being built to make a statement. Having been a builder for 28 years, it has a way of keeping your ego in check."
So does working on a project that, on Sept. 11, was obliterated: Mr. Sciame's construction firm did the interior of the Windows on the World restaurant in 1996, as a commemorative plaque on an office shelf attests.
He's been a developer for only eight years, and figures this skyscraper will validate his skills the way projects like the Seamen's Church Institute at the Seaport and the PenMor Farms development in Muttontown on Long Island, near his home in Locust Valley, anchored the construction company: "The tall ships used to mark the seaport, and now we're going to mark it. This will be the future landmark of the East River waterfront, and I don't see anything wrong with that!"
HAD Mr. Calatrava not joined the project, a more conventional residential tower might have ensued, but Mr. Sciame, a C.C.N.Y. graduate with an architecture degree but no exceptional architectural prowess, has been mesmerized by great design since college.
"I recognized while I was still at school that I was not going to be the next Frank Lloyd Wright: I was more like Salieri," he says. "I recognized good design but I couldn't create good design. But I always loved building things. You have to have the optimism of a test pilot to be in the construction business." The son of a union painter - he says his sense of humor comes from dad, his business sense from mom, a housewife - he built storefronts for hair salons during college. When he went into business for himself in 1975, his first job was the $75 repair of a gate at New York University. Next came a $2,500 stucco job, then a $45,000 dance studio, and he was on his way.
In Mr. Calatrava, who invited him to breakfast at the Four Seasons Hotel in 2002 to enlist his help on a personal remodeling job (Mr. Sciame, who had hoped he was being hired to build the Atlanta Symphony Hall, was initially crushed but rebounded nicely), he has found his Mozart. "It only took 15 minutes with him for the genius of the man to come through! I've met my match in enthusiasm."
Mr. Sciame, an otherwise rational businessman of 52 and a devoted papa of four, giddily insists on posing with the model of the proposed 90 South Street Tower on his conference table. Happily married to his high school sweetheart, Barbara, he has no need of a trophy wife. But a trophy building concocted by the same trophy architect who, two weeks after they signed this contract, was named to design the reincarnated World Trade Center transit hub? Count him in.
"I'll hug it, kiss it, anything," he tells the photographer. "But only for this building!"
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company
Landmark of the future...
12 cubes X 45 = 540 ft
base = 90 ft
Space above base appears to equal 1 cube = 45 ft
Total height to roof = 675 ft
Pole = 160 ft.
"Pole" is such a harsh word. Why don't we all agree to call it a "spire." :wink:Originally Posted by ZippyTheChimp
This photo went with the article Christian posted above. There is definitely space between each section. Even if it is only 10', that is about 120' in height, and that pole looks bigger than 40'. If that space is around 13' then there's the missing height. I think it is 835' with a 165' pole, er....spire, like the first article originally stated.
Given that the top of each cube will be the terrace of the cube above it, there shouldn't be any vertical space between the cubes. I think that the photo is unclear on that point. I would think that the dark patches between the cubes are shadows.
I thought the same thing initially but there definitely seems to be some space between the cubes plus there seems to be at least and additional 90 feet between the 90 foot base and the first cube.Originally Posted by ZippyTheChimp
I find this most interesting and very reassuring."I wouldn't have been as confident and excited about this building, maybe, before 9/11, but with New York showing that it's going to rebuild downtown better than ever, and to stand proud, this just seems like the right building for the right time."
I don't like it anymore from the east..
Looks like a radio tower...needs a lot of refining.
I like his design for the Malmö, Sweden apartment tower. Much more sculpted and beautiful.
It's interesting. Prior to and post 9/11 we have seen many designs that riff on a similar theme: Freedom Tower, BoA, Hearst, TWC, TST, CIBC, 7WTC.
With this design and in one swoop, Calatrave has changed the subject. It is comparable to nothing in this city.
It's funny, I'm always looking for inspired commercial skyscraper design. Hoewever, design in the commercial market is dictated by needs that dictate specs similar from building to building, especially when almost everything is built to suit as opposed to speculative development - which in my opinion allows more versatility in design.
The residential market really does allow for the boldest statements in architecture as most people want something that stands out, impresses, and is unique. I would think the twelve units in this building would be snapped up by a clientele with money to burn and a desire to impress.