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Ego Drives American Skyline Ever Higher

November 24, 1985

NEW YORK (AP) _ Donald Trump’s plan for a 150-story skyscraper that would give even King Kong a nosebleed is the latest indication that ego, not economics or architecture, is the force driving the U.S. skyline to new heights.

Trump’s candidate for world’s tallest building, proposed for Manhattan’s Upper West Side, would be a monument to the ego of the developer who builds it, the architect who designs it, the people who inhabit it and the city that allows it.

″It’s a matter of whether New York wants that prestige,″ said Lynn Beedle, director of the Council on Tall Buildings, an association of architects, engineers and planners. ″It would be difficult to justify that height on other grounds.″

Trump gave it his best shot last week at a meeting with skeptical community residents, many of whom gasped when he announced the dimensions of his plan: the 1,670-foot tower, plus a 65-story office building and six residential towers of around 75 stories each.

The main building would be more than 200 feet taller than Chicago’s Sears Tower, the world’s tallest building.

If built as proposed, the complex would boast one-third of the world’s 25 tallest buildings. It would have more space, 18.5 million square feet, than all of the office buildings in Philadelphia put together.

Trump argued that by rising so high, the development clears ground for a 40-acre park, which he said would be ″the greatest ... on the West Side″ - an area that already has Frederick Law Olmsted’s Riverside Park.

The supertall building, he said, ″adds value to every other part of the job,″ and makes people willing to pay for the privilege of living in it.

Trump called the complex Television City and planned 3.6 million of its square feet for television production. The studios are to be housed under the platform on which the skyscrapers would stand.

Television City is the third ″world’s tallest building″ that Trump has proposed. In 1984, he floated plans for a 1,900-foot tower on the East River in lower Manhattan. Earlier this year, his plan for a 137-story building near the southwest corner of Central Park was rejected in favor of a smaller building by another developer.

Trump faces a long fight to secure city permission for construction, and the chairman of Community Board 7 was skeptical. ″I think the chances of it being built as he’s proposed it are very, very slim,″ said Ludwig Gelobter.

The problem, he said, is not so much the size of the buildings as the number of people who would use them. The neighborhood’s streets, sidewalks and subway stations already are crowded, he said.

Trump’s plan calls for 7,900 apartments, 3,600 more than an earlier developer of the site was able to clear with the city.

But even if Trump gets permission, ″it’s a tremendous risk,″ said Fred Kent of the Project for Public Spaces, a non-profit research group. ″Our studies have found that the kind of people who can afford the rents he’ll charge like lower-rise buildings with a greater sense of community and a more human scale.″

Currently, only a few of the world’s 100 tallest buildings have apartments in them, and Kent argued that most people don’t feel at home in a huge tower. The main entrance is too tall, the lobby too big, the elevator ride too long, he said. The doorman doesn’t know all the residents by name, and they don’t know each other at all.

Upstairs, they feel cut off from the city below, including its weather. ″People want to live closer to the street, where the action is,″ Kent said. ″You can take a helicopter ride if you like those views.″

The actual construction of a 150-story building might be easier than creating a comfortable, efficient environment for its residents, Beedle said.

But the question remains: Why bother?

Structural engineer Vincent DeSimone offered an explanation two years ago at a symposium on tall buildings organized by Engineering News Record magazine.

Developers, he said, ″are incredibly competitive. They are incredibly egotistical. And ego is what’s going to drive the next building 20 stories higher and another 20 stories higher than that.″

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