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Luxury Developments Are Creating Cities In Cities. That’s Not A Good Thing

Waterline Square, a five-acre development on Manhattan’s West Side, ups the ante for residential perks.

New York City is in the midst of an affordable housing crisis, but there’s no shortage of luxury developments inching their way to completion. Marquee architects like Herzog and de Meuron, Bjarke Ingels, SHoP, Zaha Hadid, Rafael Viñoly, and Jean Nouvel have all designed breathtaking condos outfitted with all the bells and whistles that are sure to catch monied buyers’ eyes. So how do developers stay competitive in the upper echelons of the real estate market? It’s all about the amenities.

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[Photo: Noe & Associates/The Boundary]
Waterline Square, a five-acre development on the West Side of Manhattan, recently announced an ambitious amenity program that includes a laundry list of features and spaces that would make any apartment hunter swoon. There’s an Olympic-size swimming pool, saunas, steam rooms, indoor soccer field, basketball court, rock climbing wall, bowling alley, recording studio, indoor gardening room, dog-washing salon, kids’ playroom, lounges, and the list goes on. And that’s just inside. Knitting the three towers–one by Kohn Pedersen Fox, one by Richard Meier, and one by Rafael Viñoly–together is a lush 2.6-acre park, which is privately owned but publicly accessible. Additionally, the development will include retail.

“Waterline Square’s guiding force was placemaking,” Melissa Ziweslin, managing director of Corcoran Sunshine, the company in charge of Waterline’s sales, says. “It’s such a dynamic master plan to have everything at [the residents’] fingertips. GID (the developer) has been very committed to filling Waterline Square with all of those features, which is what a condo owner looks for and what future tenants want.”

[Photo: Noe & Associates/The Boundary]
The troublesome thing is, developments like this are exacerbating class divides in New York by segmenting off portions of the population. Yes, people buying into luxury developments are doing it by choice. But the ripple effect of this type of exclusive “placemaking” impacts those who can’t purchase a seat at the table. Developers make millions at the expense of truly public space, rising real estate costs, and more segmented communities.

While the design language of Waterline Square is all about the city and community, it’s private and insular. Condo owners will have access to all the amenities as part of their association fees. Renters, on the other hand, will have to pay extra. The exact fee structure for renters’ use of the amenities has not yet been determined. Plus, the amenities in each tower–like outdoor terraces outfitted with kitchens–won’t be accessible to renters. The class divide is even designed into the buildings themselves. Condos are no lower than the 20th floor to ensure that people who can buy real estate get the best views.

A City Within A City

Each of the three towers is distinct and has its own amenities, like communal lounges and roof terraces, but the bulk of the services are shared in a central space, which is located underneath the park. Rockwell Group was enlisted to design and program the spaces.

“One of the reasons people are attracted to living in the city is disparate elements colliding and the change and transformation that happens in the city,” David Rockwell, founder of Rockwell Group, says. “So thinking about how amenities would work in Waterline was the scale and the opportunity to have a range of amenities that touch on a range of different things.”

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[Photo: Noe & Associates/The Boundary]
Rockwell Group divided the amenities into six categories: relax, play, connect, create, and pets. “They’re micro communities within this oasis,” Rockwell says. Essentially, it’s everything you could get at a Stepford country club packed into a single space.

“We thought about spaces that are promenades and the theater of the city,” Rockwell says. “We used scale so there are big spaces and small spaces that weave through the overall area. We also thought about the city itself, which is so much about movement, like Times Square with its diagonal interruptions to the grid that created a open space.”

[Photo: Noe & Associates/The Boundary]
In essence, GID Development Group are creating a city within the city. Seventy percent of the units in the development–which encompasses condominiums, rental apartments, and 20% affordable units as a condition of receiving a tax credit–are one and two bedrooms, which makes all the amenity spaces more desirable since the majority of the apartments are fairly compact by luxury standards. One bedrooms range in size from 700 square feet to more than 1,000 square feet.

“Ultimately, the amenities are an extension of one’s home,” Ziweslin says. “Even a one-bedroom purchaser can have a penthouse experience.”

“Oases Apart From The Concrete Jungle”

A similar model is in play at One Manhattan Square, a new development on Manhattan’s Lower East Side. There, the landscape architecture and urban design firm West 8–which designed the Governors Island Hills–is creating a private one-acre garden for the residents, which travels up five stories. While the green spaces are for two different audiences, they share a similar intent: “Both of these projects aimed to be oases apart from the concrete jungle of Manhattan,” designer Adriaan Geuze told Designboom.

Both of these developments are offering space in a city that’s dense and overcrowded. And the truly public parks are suffering as a result, since taller skyscrapers can block light at street level. What Waterline Square shows is that room to breathe is the ultimate perk in Manhattan–and it’s available for purchase.

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About the author

Diana Budds is a New York–based writer covering design and the built environment.

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