See billionaire Bill Ackman’s plan for a glass house atop a historic UWS building

November 17, 2021

All renderings designed by Foster+ Partners, courtesy of the Landmarks Preservation Commission

A plan funded by one of the world’s wealthiest people and designed by one of the world’s most famous architects still can’t get approved in New York City. Billionaire Bill Ackman on Tuesday presented to the Landmarks Preservation Commission his plan to construct a new glass penthouse addition designed by Norman Foster on top of a 100-year-old Upper West Side co-op building where he owns an apartment. After hours-long public testimony, LPC Chair Sarah Carroll sent Ackman and his team back to the drawing board, calling for a scaled-down design.

Ackman, founder of the hedge fund Pershing Square Capital Management, bought the 13-room penthouse at 6-16 West 77th Street in 2018 for roughly $22.5 million The neo-Renaissance-style property was designed by Nathan Koran in 1927 and sits within the Upper West Side/ Central Park West Historic District.

Constructed as a pink stucco box, the penthouse unit, a combination of four separate apartments that take up floors 16 and 17, was owned by feminist author Nancy Friday for 40 years until her death in 2017.

Ackman and his wife Neri Oxman, who currently live at The Beresford, located on the other side of the American Museum of Natural History, were looking for a new home when the unusual penthouse came on the market in 2018. As he told Curbed in an interview: “This pink thing appeared, almost magically.”

Tapping Foster + Partners for their first private residential project, Ackman and the team came up with a two-level glass box surrounded by gardens and appears to float above Central Park.

Norman Foster testified himself at Tuesday’s hearing, arguing the design was guided by the original structure and inspired by Philip Johnson’s Glass House in Connecticut. “History of any building of architecture is a layering of history and each period makes its own imprint,” Foster said Tuesday. “The quality of that imprint, and the way in which infers to the original building, is important.”

He called the design, which has been in the works for over two years and which was recently approved by Manhattan Community Board 7, “gentle” and “respectful.” While the architects and Ackman argued the addition would be minimally visible from the street, neighbors and some commissioners disagreed.

Susan Simon, the founder of the Central Park West Neighbors Association, called the design a “generic glass box,” “awkward,” and “ill-fitting.”

“If Mr. Ackman wants a view of the park, why doesn’t he just move into his apartment at One57?” Simon testified, referring to the $91.5 million penthouse Ackman said he bought in 2015 as a “fun investment.”

“Should in the near future Elon Musk buy a top floor apartment at The Dakota and wish to build a glass box penthouse on top for an even better view of Central Park, would that be considered by this body appropriate?”

The presenters of the project argued the existing pink stucco penthouse is not characteristic of the original brickwork. “If there was a concern about preservation, this would never have been painted pink, they would have never allowed the stucco, they would have never allowed for the window penetrations,” Ackman said on Tuesday, referring to the co-op board.

The commission decided to not approve or reject the proposal and instead sent the team back to the drawing board to scale down the penthouse and make it less visible from the street. Carroll said the commission will ask “the applicant to continue to study this project” and to think about how to “fulfill the design intent of this glass house.”

Ackman said a majority of residents at the building support his project, with a “small minority of shareholders” fighting him. The board of the Beresford, the president of the New-York Historical Society, and architecture critic Paul Goldberger all testified in favor of the addition.

“A lot of what I’ve heard tonight is hard to hear, but I have to say, we’ve worked at this very carefully and thoughtfully,” Ackman testified. “We’re going to move into the building with a two-and-a-half-year-old daughter and we don’t want people, obviously, frowning at us. We want to be welcomed.”


All renderings courtesy of the Landmarks Preservation Commission


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