For What It’s Worth: New Manhattan luxury developments are giant middle fingers to New Yorkers

It seemed everyone had something to say about last month’s unveiling of the proposed multi-billion-dollar redesign of 666 Fifth Avenue. And almost no one was complimentary of Zaha Hadid Architects reimagining of the Kushner family’s tower — quickly dubbed a “glass dildo” on the internet.

Snarksters even asked if it vibrated. Ouch! Architectural erections of this sort, others quipped, are hard to maintain, referencing a Viagra commercial.

Because of a mixture of its diabolical address (there are talks to change it to 660 Fifth for that very reason), its unfortunate shape and its relationship to a president with the lowest starting approval rating in history, commenters began referring to it as “The Devil’s Dildo,” photoshopping it to have Beelzebub horns. Artistic naysayers got even more creative, morphing it into the Tower of Sauron from the “Lord of the Rings”.

But to other tweeters, it looked like a giant middle finger flipping off the entire city. I think they may be onto something there.


This is only the latest offensive rendering New Yorkers have faced of late. Indeed, many of the new luxury projects that were actually built in Manhattan in recent years are equally offensive. City developers have the chance to leave behind masterpieces on par with the Chrysler Building and Woolworth Building. Instead, they’d rather give the public the middle finger and turn a fat buck.

Towers such as 432 Park and Via 57 West have all been called eyesores, but as someone who likes stability, order, smooth lines and symmetry, 56 Leonard has been one of my least favorite buildings of late.

I find it visually off-putting and even thinking about it instills a sense of panic in me. While rationally I know it is structurally intact, the neurotic in me somehow fears “The Jenga Buildings” will someday come crashing down like its nickname-sake. No thanks!

Similarly the waviness of Via 57 West and its Egyptian-sci-fi mashup aesthetic gives me the feeling I’d have eating Italian Indian fusion – a queasy stomach.

Meanwhile, Viñoly’s super-tall 432 Park’s grid-like facade is said to be inspired by a metal trash bin. Fitting, because I think it looks like garbage.

Most of the newer buildings I hate share the same extremely narrow and tall shape. While that may be what I am looking for in a romantic partner, in a building they tend to stand out like sore thumbs — or middle fingers rather.

Of course it is the nature of the artist to shock and awe, and constantly up the ante in terms of creative design. But have renowned architects lately taken some sort of collective consciousness pill? Is there an unvoiced pissing match happening, each trying to build something bigger and more outlandish in the hopes of simply standing out?

It’s no coincidence that many of the newer high rises being erected having been criticized for looking like phalluses. And indeed I’d contend that many of these new towers are basically a steel and glass “fuck you.” They are a virtual middle finger telling the average New Yorker to get the eff outta here and make room for the super rich.