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The Discourse

This Story of Billionaires Living in the Skyscraper From Hell Is a Pure Delight

The mega-rich have created an environment where the little injustices of daily life suddenly creep back in.

NY Skyline with 432 Park
New York's skyline looking north from One World Trade. 432 Park, the tower in question, is the stupid looking Tetris block poking up on the right hand side.
Flickr/ Doc Searles

Every once in a while one of the major outlets publishes a story that fuels you for a whole day, or even several days. Each publication has its own brand of these: New York magazine publishes a lengthy, completely unbelievable “roommate from hell” feature at least once every couple of years, GQ or one of the glossy mags will sneak in a truly deranged celebrity profile, et cetera. For the New York Times, these stories often deal with real estate, or occasionally appear in the lesser-known “Vows” wedding section. Which leads us to today, and this monumental feat of journalism from NYT real estate reporter Stefanos Chen.

Here is the headline: The Down Side to Life in a Supertall Tower: Leaks, Creaks, Breaks.

Immediately, I am sold. We’ve got the implication that rich people are having a tough time. We have a reference to the obscenely tall buildings in midtown that look like shit and nobody likes. We’ve even got onomatopoeia. Let’s dive in.

The nearly 1,400-foot tower at 432 Park Avenue, briefly the tallest residential building in the world, was the pinnacle of New York’s luxury condo boom half a decade ago, fueled largely by foreign buyers seeking discretion and big returns.

Six years later, residents of the exclusive tower are now at odds with the developers, and each other, making clear that even multimillion-dollar price tags do not guarantee problem-free living. The claims include: millions of dollars of water damage from plumbing and mechanical issues; frequent elevator malfunctions; and walls that creak like the galley of a ship — all of which may be connected to the building’s main selling point: its immense height, according to homeowners, engineers and documents obtained by The New York Times.

Yes…. YEss….. YES!!! The rest of the piece does not disappoint. For those becoming concerned that this will become a New York City-specific thing, it is and it isn’t. As the article, and many other pieces of reporting over the past few years explain, Manhattan’s skyline has been rudely pierced by several residential megatowers in the past decade, almost all of which exist to basically give foreign oil billionaires a property to dump cash into as a tax shelter and not even live in. See:

The 96th floor penthouse at the top of the building sold in 2016 for nearly $88 million to a company representing the Saudi retail magnate Fawaz Alhokair.

Also, JLo and ARod briefly lived there. But anyway. Let’s move on. The people who are actually dumb enough to live in these monstrosities, well, they’re not having a good time.

A quote from the wife of a Russian oil baron:

“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.”

A freight elevator! Egads!!

Other complaints: there were a number of floods (damages in the millions!!)! Caused, sources told the Times, because the building’s architects had made the mechanical floors in the building implausibly tall to skirt building codes and make the whole thing taller. It’s too good!!

Reading on, you learn that the wind sway sometimes shuts down elevator shafts. Trash chutes sound like bombs! And to make matters even worse: there’s no more free breakfast!

Some residents also railed against surging fees at the building’s private restaurant, overseen by the Michelin-star chef, Shaun Hergatt. When the building opened in late 2015, homeowners were required to spend $1,200 a year on the service; in 2021, that requirement jumps to $15,000, despite limited hours of operation because of the pandemic. And breakfast is no longer free.

In a way, I’m incredibly glad that these towers exist. Almost all of the problems inherent to them seem to stem from the nature of the building itself: impossibly tall, difficult to keep up. These are preventable, easy-to-avoid flaws: with a billion dollars, you could buy hundreds of apartments just as luxurious as the ones in this building where things are not constantly going wrong. But because of their hubris, the mega-rich have created an environment where the little injustices of daily life — the things being truly rich allows you to avoid — have crept back in. Their elevators don’t work. Their food is too expensive. Their plumbing sucks shit (or doesn’t).

Read the whole story here: if anything, I’m underselling it. The hard reporting behind all of this stuff is airtight, and it’s truly a thing of beauty.