by Rick Bell FAIA Executive Director AIA New York
“I’ve paid attention to the body language of NYC skyscrapers — this is a building that could only be built in New York,” said Frank Gehry, FAIA, at last Thursday’s topping-off ceremony for the 76-story Beekman Tower, located between Spruce, William, Beekman, and Nassau Streets in Lower Manhattan. The new building is the first residential tower designed in NYC by Gehry, who especially thanked “the workmen and the many hands that worked together to make this happen,” adding that “when I design a building, I think of all of the thousands of people who are involved” in its construction.
In construction, “topping off” refers to the ceremony held when the last beam, or in this case a 10-ton bucket of concrete, is placed at the building’s top. Since the dark days of the Great Depression, there has never been as much attention paid to issues of skyscraper form, design excellence, and the need for jobs in the construction and design industries.
As master of ceremonies and the project’s developer, Bruce Ratner, Chairman & CEO of Forest City Ratner Companies, proudly proclaimed that “Beekman has 2,500 union jobs — we build through recessions,” and that the design “is something else.” The stainless-steel residential tower has 1.1 million square feet and rises almost 900 feet above a six-story brick podium that will house the first NYC public school ever built on private land. The 100,000-square-foot school, designed by Swanke Hayden Connell Architects, will accommodate 630 students. The fact that a good part of the equity for the project came from union pension funds was not lost on the crowd of more than 200 civic and labor leaders, including NYC Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri, Forest City Ratner’s President & COO Joanne M. Minieri, and Executive Vice President MaryAnne Gilmartin. Gary LaBarbera, president of the Building and Construction Trades Council spoke of how the project team was “committed to success, even under the most difficult economic circumstances in decades.” He exclaimed, “The spirit of NYC made this happen — this is the greatest city in the world!”