432 Park Is Having Some Growing Pains

Besides eliciting “told-you-so” responses, a recent report of less-than-stellar living conditions at one of Manhattan’s most controversial buildings sheds light on the serious safety issues plaguing residential supertalls.

Photography by Arturo Pardavila

If you missed the damning New York Times exposé of what it’s like to live in Manhattan’s 432 Park Avenue, you’re in for gleeful schadenfreude. Developed by CIM Group and Harry B. Macklowe and designed by Rafael Viñoly, the 1,400-foot-tall skyscraper became the Western Hemisphere’s tallest residential building when it opened in 2014. Along with fellow elongated toothpick One57, the $3.1 billion building helped inaugurate what’s now known as Billionaire’s Row, the stretch of ultra-luxury supertalls that redefined the city skyline with a shimmering swath of “middle fingers”—or are they more like sore thumbs? 

The high life, it turns out, comes with drawbacks. Residents of 432 Park are reportedly sparring with developers (and each other) over millions of dollars worth of water damage from mechanical and plumbing issues, frequent elevator malfunctions, and unbearably creaky walls when the building shimmies during high winds. Blame the structure’s staggering height, which has far surpassed the engineering breakthroughs required to enable such sky-high trophy apartments. 

Behold, the wildest excerpts:

1. When Sarina Abramovich and her husband, who bought a high-floor unit for $17 million, was scheduled to move in, the building was still under construction. “They put me in a freight elevator surrounded by steel plates and plywood, with a hard-hat operator,” she said. “That’s how I went up to my hoity-toity apartment before closing.”

2. 432 Park has suffered several floods, one of which caused an estimated $500,000 in property damage to Abramovich’s apartment. These were caused by a “blown” flange and a “water line failure” that caused water to enter elevator shafts, removing two of the building’s four residential elevators from service for weeks. An anonymous buyer cited a “catastrophic water flood” as grounds to exit a deal to buy an 84th-floor unit in 2016. The building’s insurance costs skyrocketed 300 percent in two years thanks to two 2018 water-related incidents that cost $9.7 million in covered losses.

3. Residents have compared the building’s creaky walls to “the galley of a ship.” The worst of the cacophony comes from the communal garbage chute, which “sounds like a bomb” when bags tumble down.

4. Residents also lamented surging fees at 432 Park’s private restaurant, which is helmed by Michelin-star chef Shaun Hergatt. When it opened, in 2015, homeowners were obligated to spend $1,200 per year on the service; that requirement jumped to $15,000 in 2021 despite reduced hours because of the pandemic.

5. The icing on the cake? “Everybody hates each other here,” said Abramovich, who now faces $82,000 in late fees and interest for refusing to cover recent increases in common charges. (The Times notes that number is more than twice the median household income in the Bronx.) She adds: “Everything here was camouflage.”

Photography by Dbox

“Camouflage” is quite the euphemism, especially considering how The Cut referred to the building as “the most wretched of hellholes.” According to reports, several of these issues are quietly afflicting other residential supertalls, too. But will they inevitably face a similar fate?

There’s no easy answer. Curbed asked three engineering experts the same question to vastly different responses. James von Klemperer, president of the skyscraper-friendly firm Kohn Pedersen Fox, says slender high-rises are prone to such issues, but they’re entirely avoidable. The elevator specialist Steven Edgett blames 432 Park’s frequent stalls and breakdowns on tight shafts. An anonymous structural engineer, meanwhile, cites the “structurally corrupt” development that’s all too common in New York. “The people who put up the buildings are not accountable for their quality,” he says, noting this issue isn’t confined to supertalls. “As long as problems don’t crop up before they unload the property, they can do whatever they want.” 

It’s worth mentioning that 432 Park’s developers also exploited a planning law loophole by filling a quarter of its floors with structural and mechanical equipment, which normally wouldn’t count towards maximum height. In 432 Park, these floors were made especially tall, leading some to believe that the developers simply wanted the building to tower over everyone else. (The building is so tall, in fact, that it required approval from the U.S. Federal Aviation Administration.) 

Detractors rightfully view these sky-high aspirations as a gravely serious safety issue. “We’ve been following the safety concerns of supertalls for a long time,” Sean Khorsandi, executive director of preservation group Landmark West!, told The Guardian. “I was in architecture school on 9/11. We watched the towers fall. There were all sorts of symposiums and public statements that we’re never going to build [that] tall again. All we’ve done in the 20 years since is build even taller.”  

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