25 Park Row: A Classic New York Skyscraper Inspired by Nature
A backstage talk with Co-Developer Rachelle Friedman and Brandon Specketer of COOKFOX Architects on the new signature tower in downtown Manhattan.
The brand new 50-story condo at 25 Park Row in lower Manhattan’s Financial District is the result of an exquisite combination of a vision of the future—built on Art Deco design—paired with biophilic connections. Designed by COOKFOX Architects, the tower fits harmoniously in the historic area where neighbors are famous icons such as the 1913 Woolworth Building.
The architect’s vision for the building was to complete the urban room. The park across the street has been a long-time civic gathering space that made the city organize itself around it, creating a green urban room walled with a historical tapestry of architecture.
The 702-foot-tall mixed-use tower was until 2014 the famous J&R Music World location, one of Manhattan’s most popular commercial sites, with a rich history. Joe and Rachelle Friedman, the couple behind J&R, opened the electronics retailer in one storefront at 23 Park Row in 1971, marking the city’s first music superstore.
Soon after, they rented every space that became available on the block, eventually purchasing 10 sites to eliminate risks such as rent hikes or competitors moving in. They even organized free music festivals in the adjacent park for years in a row, to celebrate the community they found and helped maintain on Park Row.
Bridging the past to the present
Even though the store closed, the Friedman family remained as a bridge between the past and the present at the property, and joined L + M Development Partners as co-developers, sharing their extensive knowledge of the site with the development team.
“When my husband Joe and I closed the store, we were sad, but we knew what came next would be truly remarkable and we are proud to have created an iconic New York City building at 25 Park Row. Because of our love for the neighborhood and our investment in it, we wanted to be involved in its future and create a building that could live up to the J&R legacy,” Rachelle told Multi-Housing News when asked what made them stay on board.
Letting go of J&R Music store might have left a trace of nostalgia, in both the former owners and the community around the store, but when meeting the L+M Development team and Rick Cook of COOKFOX Architects, Rachelle and Joe knew “they shared our love for the neighborhood and our vision of creating a building,” as she put it.
In fact, this love and a plethora of deeply personal connections to the site, its history on Park Row, its location on City Hall Park, its proximity to the Woolworth building, and the legacy and collective history New Yorkers have with J&R music, had a unique influence on the redevelopment.
“On this project, every single person that touched it wanted to make sure ‘we got it right.’ It was great being able to see this project start, develop and evolve to its completed form as something everyone poured their hearts and creative energy into,” confessed Brandon Specketer, COOKFOX Architect’s partner-in-charge of 25 Park Row.
As such, the end result was meticulously planned because Rachelle and her husband knew like nobody else which was the best place to watch the sunset, which way balconies should be oriented, who the customers of the area are.
Specketer loved hand sketching through so many different aspects of the project. “We leverage a lot of technology at COOKFOX to generate, iterate and resolve design, but I always remember the meetings with the client, the consultants or with our own team when we come to a solution over pen and paper, and the joy of solving problems in simple ways, with simple tools.”
The planning of the building’s single-loaded corridor was a very specific design decision made during the earliest days. No apartment faces only the “back.” Every condo has a direct visual connection with nature and the landscape, and the tree canopy provided by City Hall Park, Specketer explained. Each apartment also has connections with natural systems through direct access to the exterior, provided by either in-swing casement windows and balconettes, loggias or traditional setback terraces.
The tower features retail on the ground floor, commercial space on the second and third floors, and 110 apartments on floors four through 26—except for the sixth floor, which is entirely dedicated to amenities designed by Andre Mellone.
Residents have access to fitness, dining and pool areas with treetop views and natural materials. The 20,000-square-foot amenity suite is highlighted by an Art Deco-inspired swimming pool covered in gold mosaic tiles. Moreover, a common landscaped terrace garden designed by Starr Whitehouse heightens residents’ connection to the outdoors.
Biophilic design, sustainability and high-performance architecture
Natural and biomorphic forms are the source of several design elements at 25 Park Row. “The manipulation of the form over the height of the building is biomorphic, capturing light and shadows in dynamic ways over the course of the day and the seasons. The inspiration of natural plant and water forms are also found in the custom-designed metalwork that forms a common, floral-like motif on several metalworks and decorative aspects found throughout the building,” the lead architect explained.
The development team agreed on the type of biophilic elements they wanted to incorporate, as well as on how they would achieve high levels of filtered fresh air and water, efficiency in energy use and responsibility in material use.
“Our first meeting with the clients was not only about how the building was going to aesthetically complete the ‘urban room’ that is City Hall Park, but as importantly, how was the building going to ‘feel’ to those who would choose to live there,” Specketer recalled.
The unit mix ranges from one- to four-bedroom simplex and duplex penthouses, with every home offering direct views of City Hall Park. “My office used to be in the old J&R building and any time any celebrities visited, everyone loved the view of the park. As you get higher, you get panoramas of the Hudson and East rivers, the Woolworth Building, the Brooklyn Bridge, The Oculus, Trinity Church and One World Trade,” Rachelle mentioned.
Apartments feature Juliet railings, loggias or terraces, which get increasingly dramatic toward higher floors. Moreover, each terrace, loggia and Juliet railing is defined by custom biophilic-patterned screens, in assortment with the nearby park.
The apartments rise above the neighboring buildings and are oriented toward Uptown and Downtown, and culminate with “lantern” living rooms from which loggias extend, connecting residents to nature and the changing seasons. Structural columns blur the definition between indoor and outdoor, making these loggias seem like part of the building mass.
Reminiscing the classic skyscraper setbacks of the 1930s, Park Row’s terraces step back, mellowing its compactness on the skyline while integrating its form into the historical surroundings.
“The design team for Park Row was heavily influenced by the incorporation of what makes a skyscraper ‘classically New York’, but also what makes it feel—sometimes literally—equally inspired by the natural environment,” said Specketer.
The interiors boast holistic design by use of natural materials—the grains of walnut and oak, the veining of Calacatta and Nero Marquina stone, and, over time, the patina of many hands touching bronze—that all elicit a biological response to natural, biophilic patterns, and enhance occupant well-being.
The Art Deco era is revived inside powder rooms and kitchens, where the architects used high-contrast materials. Muted textures in bathrooms create a serene and intimate atmosphere.
About pandemic times
The project has been underway since May 2017 and is currently open, with the last phases of the construction process unfolding during the pandemic.
“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and I don’t know of a better way of phrasing it,” said Specketer. “Working in pandemic times has only strengthened our resolve that the mission of COOKFOX should remain firmly focused on social, human, and environmental health and wellness.”
Through its biophilic connections to the park, 25 Park Row’s design proved prescient of pandemic life. “This is something that we are seeing resonate even more with buyers. Also, uniquely 98 percent of units in the building have access to private, usable outdoor space, which is so important during this time,” noted Rachelle.