Approved: The Nordstrom Tower

The Base of The Nordstrom TowerThe Base of The Nordstrom Tower

Extell received a certificate of appropriateness for the Nordstrom Tower’s cantilever this afternoon, removing the last formal obstacle behind the building’s rise. The issue at hand was whether the cantilever would negatively impact the Art Students League Building, which was built in 1892, and the Landmarks Preservation Commission voted six to one in favor of Extell’s application. Consequently, 217 West 57th will become the tallest building in New York City, at a height of 1,423 feet.

The commission had two ways of interpreting the cantilever in the context of a historic landmark. The first was to look at just the cantilever, which will be perched 190 feet above the roof of the Art Students League, and 290 feet above street level. The second would have been to look at the cantilever, as well as the Nordstrom Tower’s mass above the cantilever, given the Art Students League’s airspace does not have an artificial box at 290 feet above the street.

Ultimately the distinction over how to interpret the context of the tower above the cantilever was avoided, and the discussion instead focused on interpreting the cantilever alone. It was decided that the overhang, in and of itself, posed no negative impact to the Art Students League, and – as one member of the commission stated – will actually protect the Art Students League from any future intrusions, preserving the building in its current historic state.

NIMBY turnout at the meeting was impressive, with a host of representatives deriding issues besides what was actually up for debate. Criticism was levied based on the tower’s potential shadows over Central Park, as well as Extell’s safety record at One57. The Municipal Arts Society’s representative was particularly vocal, finding it “ironic there is no public planning process for the blocks of 57th being transformed,” though that is the beauty of as-of-right development.

Extell’s president and founder Gary Barnett attended the hearing, as well as architect Gordon Gill of Smith + Gill, which is designing the tower. Barnett described the cantilever’s “integral design function,” noting it will “only be perceptible when a pedestrian looks at the sky,” which is indeed the case.

Prior to the hearing regarding the Art Students League, historian William Higgins described the detailed process behind preserving 1780 Broadway’s facade, which was also granted approval. The former B.F. Goodrich Building will be incorporated into the Nordstrom Tower, and while commission members had issues with the size of Nordstrom’s signage, the modifications to 1780 Broadway were ultimately accepted. Per Higgins, “the proposed work will enhance the architectural and historic character of the building,” a comment that is completely valid – Extell will take the B.F Goodrich Building above and beyond what it once was, and it will provide a historic and contextual entrance to Nordstrom on Broadway.

While the cantilever was ultimately approved, Extell provided no additional renderings of the project, beyond what had already been presented in previous hearings. Luckily, an insider has posted the below image to, which gives a glimpse of Smith + Gill’s office, and the modeled versions of 217 West 57th Street. The tower will certainly go beyond the stocky massing model presented in initial hearings, with balconies evident on many floors, as well as indentations that will break up the mass of the building above the cantilever. Apparently the image also includes the initial iteration of 217 West 57th Street, which would have risen straight up. Despite the lack of detail – it’s the grey, pointed building on the left – the original proposal would have clearly been an angular and daring addition to the skyline.

217 West 57th Street Model

217 West 57th Street Model

Details on the exact qualities of 217 West 57th remain up in the air, but it is clear the building will be tall, rising 1,423 feet and 10 inches. It also appears that the structure will have additional details compared to the vague renderings that have been released so far, a sign the tower may indeed become an iconic addition to the skyline. Now approved – and with excavation underway – the wait begins for the next step: detailed renderings of the entire building. Despite the controversy over the cantilever, Barnett has proven to have a penchant for refined design – as have architects Smith + Gill – and the prospects for an aesthetically fortunate Nordstom Tower remain very real.

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