The Lost Skyline

An entire counterfactual history of New York could be written simply from the stories of buildings that never got built. Even in flush times, ambitious projects are hard to incubate; they struggle to maturity against a tide of red tape, cost overruns, warring egos, and community sensitivities. In difficult times, when the market goes suddenly from strong to weak, the survival rate drops with the Dow. Plans are left out in the cold.

Only nine months ago, each of the buildings on the following pages stood a fighting chance of making the jump from architect’s drawings to glass, steel, concrete, and brick. Today, all are on indefinite, very costly hold. That doesn’t necessarily mean death; developers, with all they’ve invested monetarily and emotionally, routinely maintain that construction is poised to continue as soon as financing gets back on track. But as often as not, time passes them by, and the lots sit unchanged, waiting for new architects and developers to reimagine their future for a different, more modest world. In the meantime, we are left not with towers or spires or bold cantilevers, but snapshots, renderings. A portrait of a city that never was.

56 Leonard Street Herzog & de Meuron for the Alexico Group ANNOUNCED: September 2008
PLAN: A 56-story residential tower comprising 145 luxury residences, with occupancy originally expected in late 2010.
STATUS: Louise Sunshine, a real-estate consultant working with Alexico, says the project “is awaiting the completion of its financing.” Meanwhile, construction is stalled and the developer admits the timeline has been changed. Photo: Connie Zhou for New York Magazine

WTC Tower 5Kohn Pedersen Fox for the Port Authority ANNOUNCED: June 2007
PLAN: A 42-story tower for JPMorgan Chase & Co., with a cantilevered trading floor extending over St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church.
STATUS: When JPMorgan acquired Bear Stearns last year, it found itself with a trading floor in midtown. According to representatives at the Port Authority, the project is on hold indefinitely. Photo: Junko Takahashi for New York Magazine

53 West 53rd StreetJean Nouvel for Hines ANNOUNCED: November 2007
PLAN: A 75-story tower containing luxury apartments, a hotel, and three floors of MoMA exhibition space.
STATUS: MoMA sold the lot to Hines in 2007 in exchange for $125 million and approximately 40,000 square feet of additional gallery space. The project is now awaiting planning approval, but according to a New York Times article in December, the project “has been delayed indefinitely.” A Hines representative says things are “status quo” but that the project is going forward. Photo: Connie Zhou for New York Magazine

50 West StreetMurphy/Jahn and Gruzen Samton for Time Equities ANNOUNCED: June 2008
PLAN: A 65-story tower containing 280 condominiums and a 155-room luxury hotel.
STATUS: Construction began last summer but stopped after a few months. In December, The Real Deal reported that “construction financing will likely be delayed until third-quarter 2009.” “The project is on temporary suspension right now,” says Dermot Johnson of Time Equities. Photo: Connie Zhou for New York Magazine

65 Fifth AvenueSkidmore, Owings & Merrill for the New School ANNOUNCED: December 2007
PLAN: A $400 million, 350-foot glass box with illuminated “quads in the sky.” The building, an expansion of the New School, would appear pink by day and glow purple by night.
STATUS: In a February 27 meeting with community leaders, the New School officially scrapped plans and announced that it will retain SOM to design a more modest structure. Photo: Connie Zhou for New York Magazine

Harlem Park (125th St. and Park Ave.) Swanke Hayden Connell Architects for Vornado Realty Trust ANNOUNCED: July 2007
PLAN: A 21-story office tower; Harlem’s first major office building in three decades.
STATUS: Construction was slated to finish this year, but it has yet to begin. Vornado’s most recent annual report states that it “delayed and substantially wrote down” the project. Photo: Connie Zhou for New York Magazine

BAM Cultural District Apartment Tower (Fulton St. and Ashland Pl.) StudioMDA/Behnisch Architects for Full Spectrum ANNOUNCED: November 2007
PLAN: An $85 million mixed-income residential tower with 187 units and a 40,000-square-foot center for the Danspace Project.
STATUS: An ambitious project even in robust economic times, the development was recently reported by the Brooklyn Paper to be tabled indefinitely. The city’s Department of Housing Preservation and Development confirms it is helping the developers “identify a financing package that will allow the project to proceed.” Photo: Connie Zhou for New York Magazine

Manhattan West (Ninth Ave. bet. 31st and 33rd Sts.) Skidmore, Owings & Merrill for Brookfield Properties ANNOUNCED: February 2008
PLAN: Two 60-plus-story office towers totaling 5.4 million square feet.
STATUS: Construction was reportedly scheduled to begin last June, with Condé Nast as a possible anchor tenant. But lease commitments have not been finalized and construction never began. “All of our developments are on hold right now pending tenant and financing commitments,” says Brookfield’s Matthew Cherry. Photo: Connie Zhou for New York Magazine

The Lost Skyline