Property investment

Made in Manhattan: Chinese developer Vanke gets arty with landmark project

PUBLISHED : Monday, 23 November, 2015, 2:21pm
UPDATED : Friday, 15 July, 2016, 10:32am

A very modern marriage of convenience between Vanke, one of China’s most prolific developers, and New York contemporary art patron and property magnate Aby Rosen is set to create a new landmark residential building in Manhattan’s Midtown East, in a bid to lead the predominantly business and commercial district’s evolution into a luxury neighbourhood for art- and design-loving residents.

The 63-storey structure, designed by the London-based architect Norman Foster, is under construction on a site next to Mies van der Rohe and Philip Johnson’s iconic Seagram Building, which Rosen’s company RFR Holding also owns, and comes a decade after the global slowdown forced Rosen to shelve plans to build a luxury hotel on the site. The new building is scheduled for completion in 2017.

“My goal is to create a powerful landmark so I wanted something that would stand tall and strong next to the Seagram,” Rosen says.

“Norman [Foster] is the only guy who wouldn’t be intimidated or fearful of the environment or the criticism that comes with this.”

According to Rosen, the architect knew instinctively what the site needed: just 10 minutes after seeing the site he had sketched up his idea for the new building.

“I looked at it and liked what I saw. He had captured the spirit of the building.”

“A condo needs to excite,” Rosen adds, “and however good the American architects are, it is always good to shake things up by bringing in someone like Norman.”

READ MORE: Vanke in Manhattan luxury flats deal

Shaking up New York society has become something of a speciality of Rosen. He first moved from his native Frankfurt, Germany to the capital when 18 and quickly made a name for himself during the recession of the 90s, when he snapped up a host of well-placed properties. He went on to acquire the Seagram building in 2000, followed by Sotheby’s World Headquarters in 2003 and the Gramercy Park Hotel in 2010. More recent projects include the W Hotel in Tel Aviv and 190 Bowery.

A keen collector of contemporary art, Rosen has a reputation for adding artworks by the likes of Andy Warhol and Tracey Emin to the public areas of his projects.

“I don’t have art in places just to have people walk by and not notice it,” Rosen says. “It has to either soothe you or do the opposite, like disgust you. Then you know you have chosen the right piece.”

Happily, the 94 new apartments at 100 East 53rd Street – mostly one- and two-bedroom apartments (1,140 to 4,607 square feet), along with lofts (1,034 sq ft), three-bedrooms (around 3,385 sq ft), and a four-bedroom penthouse of 6,760 sq ft – are likely to appeal to well-heeled discerning buyers.

According to Rosen, buyers are likely to be “the guy who lives in Europe or China and wants to have a second or third home. There are probably two or three people waiting right now just to buy something of Foster’s.”

Apart from a striking undulating aluminium façade, Rosen describes as “bright, white and very visible with a depth to it”, the interiors – designed in collaboration with New York-based architect and interior designer William T. Georgis – cater to a contemporary lifestyle. Think luxurious kitchens with appliances hidden away to create complete flexibility of use, and two-bedroom apartments featuring a pair of identical master bedrooms.

“There are plenty of other developments in New York offering family apartments, we are looking to provide something high-value for couples who are looking to spend US$10 million on a smaller space [units with two or more bedrooms], where they can walk in and have leisure, work and entertain or go downstairs to the restaurant for the highest quality salmon,” Rosen explains. 

The first four floors will house an “upscale” food court and a three-star Michelin restaurant (name yet to be released), in addition to a library, resident’s lounge, swimming pool, and the usual fitness facilities.

This is the first time Rosen has collaborated with Vanke, which was founded in 1984 and was the second listed company on the Shenzhen Stock Exchange in 1991.

“Their curiosity is what attracted me to them,” he says. “When I met the chairman, he talked about their delivering 400,000 units and I thought he had said 40,000 but no, it was 400,000! But they don’t have the local knowledge and New York is a very interesting market. I know how to manoeuvre it. That is why you go into a joint venture.”

Clearly the idea of creating a new architectural icon also appeals.

There is no greater pleasure than building a landmark building next to a building like the Seagram building,” says Rosen. “I love the idea of working with a space in a heritage building but this is one of the most exciting I’ve ever worked on.”