Bird’s Eye View

Forest City Ratner’s New York by Gehry embraces its verticality.
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There’s nothing like viewing New York City from the window of an airplane approaching LaGuardia Airport. The panorama is breathtaking and unforgettable. A similarly satisfying experience is enjoyed every day by residents of New York by Gehry at Eight Spruce Street in Lower Manhattan’s Financial District. At 870 feet tall, this luxury apartment building developed by Forest City Ratner and designed by globally renowned “starchitect” Frank O. Gehry is the tallest residential tower not only in New York City—but in the Western Hemisphere.

It’s located just south of Pace University near the Manhattan entrance to the Brooklyn Bridge and within walking distance of City Hall. “In terms of the residential experience, the building benefits enormously from exquisite views of really the entire city,” says Melissa Burch, executive vice president, Forest City Ratner Cos. “New York by Gehry is very much a part of the story of the revival of Lower Manhattan post Sept. 11. But in many ways the building transcends its specific location and interacts with nearly every borough in the city through its views.”

The residential portion of the 76-story mixed-use tower is currently 98 percent occupied, and the views have definitely had a favorable impact on the leasing effort. “The opportunity to see the city from this vantage point—whether it’s on lower floors where you’re much more connected to the streetscape or you’re up high and experiencing the city the way you might from a helicopter or from a plane—it’s the bird’s eye view and it’s a very unusual experience to have,” adds Burch. “I think it really captures people’s attention and imagination.”

8 Spruce Street also serves as a recognizable landmark and interesting new addition to Manhattan’s skyline. For his first residential commission in New York, according to Forest City Ratner, Gehry reinterpreted the design language of the classic Manhattan high-rise using undulating waves of stainless steel that reflect the changing light, transforming the appearance of the building throughout the day. His innovative tower design has resulted in more than 200 unique floor plans, and many of the apartment homes can view the building’s dramatic exterior through their ample windows. Gehry also designed the interior of the tower. He specified all interior finishes and fixtures including the entry door hardware and cabinetry crafted in his signature honey-colored vertical grain Douglas Fir.

The building offers studios starting at $2,795 to three bedrooms starting at $12,050. In addition to 903 apartment units and 22,000 sq. ft. of indoor and outdoor amenity spaces—on the 6th, 7th and 8th floors—the mixed-use building has doctor’s offices, a public pool and a parking lot. Spruce Street School (PS397), in the building’s base, is now up to 4th grade and a 5th grade will be added this year with the school eventually going up to the 8th grade.

“The site is very well served by mass transit,” says Burch. “It’s quite close to City Hall. It has incredible transportation access which makes it a beautiful site—and in addition, it’s part of the whole revival and renaissance of Lower Manhattan.” Burch notes that the birth of residential living in lower Manhattan, which now is a statement of fact, was actually slow to take hold.

“Many years ago Lower Manhattan was much more focused on office development and on Wall Street, and the story around residential and retail really lagged; but, post 2001 there was a lot of public commitment to residential living in Lower Manhattan and certainly a tremendous amount of public investment into remaking and reviving Lower Manhattan and this building was a part of that story.”

Naturally, Forest City Ratner was not the only developer interested in reimagining this neighborhood. “The site was actually a parking lot before it was redeveloped into our building,” says Burch. “It was owned by the New York Downtown Hospital. In November of 2003 the hospital put out an RFP to the major real estate development companies to develop the site.” The response by all these companies was tremendous, and the hospital selected Forest City Ratner at the end of 2003. “We were able to finalize all of our agreements and the purchase of the site in December of 2004,” adds Burch.

Forest City Ratner’s overall experience, ability to access financing and high-rise expertise undoubtedly contributed to its winning the RFP. The developer is also responsible for the New York Times Building on 41st Street and Eighth Avenue. “It is one of the major significant skyscrapers to be built in this city in the last 15 years, and that building was also a great partnership between Forest City and another world renowned architect—Renzo Piano.

“There’s a great partnership that takes place especially on a building of this caliber between the architect and developer,” explains Burch. “We knew that New York by Gehry at Eight Spruce Street was going to be a tall, vertical living experience,” she adds. The height is, in its most basic sense, determined by the zoning and by the residential floor area (“floor area ratio” or FAR). This was already a high-density zoned site; but by adding a public plaza, the developer earned a bonus to build taller.

“Frank Gehry really embraced that sense of verticality,” says Burch. “It’s not just any architect who can really embrace creating a building that is unique, given the challenges that come with this height. From a design and engineering perspective, building up at 76 stories is really a tremendous feat. And then, of course, when you add in the undulating façade and the symmetry of the design, you are already doing something that is quite challenging and truly unique within New York City.”