432 Park Avenue is a really ugly building. The condominium complex is located a few blocks from the southeast corner of Central Park, and I’m not the only one who feels this way. 432 Park Avenue towers over the surrounding buildings of Manhattan at 84 stories tall, and looks like a poorly rendered skyscraper in a video game. Its exterior is a cold and lifeless checkerboard of metal girders and pale blue window glass, and the building is so loathed that it inspired its own TikTok hate account that went viral in 2021. But 432 Park Avenue was built this way for a very specific reason, and it’s not alone in its simplicity—it’s a part of a much larger effort for the rich to invest in real estate called Billionaires’ Row.
Billionaires’ Row is a neighborhood of ultra-luxury condominiums, the bulk of which occupies 57th Street in Midtown Manhattan. The towers that makeup Billionaires’ Row stick out like a sore thumb from the rest of the Manhattan skyline for one major reason: they’re incredibly skinny. Take 111 West 57th Street for example, which is incredibly slender—it’s actually the skinniest skyscraper in the world—with a height-to-width ratio of 24:1. In other words, for every ten feet of length the building takes up along the street equates to 240 feet of height, and 111 West 57th Street is a massive, 1,428 feet tall structure.
New York City real estate is prime, and developers are always looking for creative ways to build up instead of out with the limited space given to them in order to squeeze as many units as possible into a confined lot. But the curious part of these buildings is that they’re not chock-full of residences. Instead, they’re full of a fewer number of units that are marketed to the super-rich who are looking to invest in an unprecedented way.
“The amount of very wealthy [people] with that money coming into the built environment, it mutates the built environment. It mutates architecture,” said Matthew Soules in a video for The B1M. Soules is an associate professor of architecture at the University of British Columbia and the author of Icebergs, Zombies, and the Ultra Thin which explores how the growing wealth of the world’s elite is changing our architecture. Soules argues that every asset can sit on a liquidity spectrum, where liquid capital like the U.S. dollar is on one end and real estate is on the other, since real estate is more difficult to turn into capital than capital itself. Soules believes that the goal of finance capitalism is to transition real estate into a more liquid asset, similar to a stock or a bond, and it’s happening right in Billionaire’s Row.
This mutative approach to finance and architecture is evidenced by the amount of real estate that can be purchased within these towers. For some of the tallest buildings in Manhattan, you might expect a large number of units for sale, but the skyscrapers that fill Billionaire’s Row are relatively sparse. 432 Park Avenue has 147 units, 252 East 57th One57 has 92 units and 111 West 57th Street only has 60.
With fewer units, variables like noisy hallways and annoying neighbors are no longer something owners of these condominiums have to worry about, which means the property will likely maintain its value with very little intervention. For example, if you own a single-family home, you have to continue to maintain that property in order to ensure it’s valuable when it’s time to sell.
Owners of condos on Billionaires’ Row don’t have to worry about their property depreciating in value and can leave their property untouched for extended periods of time— or not even live in it at all. In other words, these condos are mainly being treated as places where the rich can store their wealth, not necessarily to live in at all. Likewise, since there are so few condos in these buildings, developers can charge more per unit, and both parties are happy. It all makes sense in theory, but this approach to luxury construction has not come without its setbacks.
You seem to be on a 432 Park Avenue hating spree, not that I blame you, it's pretty damn hideous.
— Landyn 🗽 (@gunderfan) July 20, 2022
432 Park Avenue has sort of become the laughing stock (and punching bag) of Billionaires’ Row. The condo board behind 432 Park Avenue has sued the developers of the building for $125 million over a barrage of issues regarding the tower’s infrastructure. Residents and developers have butt heads previously on issues within the building, with problems ranging from malfunctioning elevators trapping residents for hours and flooding causing millions of dollars in damage— the developers have downplayed resident concerns on the issue. Since most of the owners of the units in 432 Park Avenue purchased their dwellings through shell companies, this made it incredibly difficult to inform the residents of these issues.
The real estate market in America is changing, and New York City seems to be the crucible of it all. Even worse, it’s changing in favor of the wealthy. The average rental price for a Manhattan apartment hit a record high of $5,000 according to a report from Douglas Elliman, which, even accounting for market increases and the wildly high rate of inflation, is a huge financial burden.
In March 2022, there were a recorded 48,524 homeless people in New York City according to the Coalition For The Homeless—over 15,000 of those were children. As the rich continue to purchase their second, third, or maybe even fourth homes as condos in some of Manhattan’s tallest (and ugliest) buildings, the rest of us are left trying to make ends meet.
if you think my voice sounds different it is because I have a cold but this is too important to not talk about !!