American creativity

“How Luxury Developers Use a Loophole to Build Soaring Towers for the Ultrarich in N.Y.” (nytimes):

Some of the tallest residential buildings in the world soar above Central Park, including 432 Park Avenue, which rises 1,400 feet and features an array of penthouses and apartments for the ultrarich.

But 432 Park also has an increasingly common feature in these new towers: swaths of unoccupied space. About a quarter of its 88 floors will have no homes because they are filled with structural and mechanical equipment.

Many of these towers stay vacant most of the year, so their owners are not subject to local and state income taxes because they are not city residents.

This ties in nicely with “Why America’s New Apartment Buildings All Look the Same” (Bloomberg):

Los Angeles architect Tim Smith was sitting on a Hawaiian beach, reading through the latest building code, as one does, when he noticed that it classified wood treated with fire retardant as noncombustible. That made wood eligible, he realized, for a building category—originally known as “ordinary masonry construction” but long since amended to require only that outer walls be made entirely of noncombustible material—that allowed for five stories with sprinklers.

By putting five wood stories over a one-story concrete podium and covering more of the one-acre lot than a high-rise could fill, Smith figured out how to get the 100 apartments at 60 percent to 70 percent of the cost.

the buildings have proved highly flammable before the sprinklers and walls go in. Dozens of major fires have broken out at mid-rise construction sites over the past five years. Of the 13 U.S. blazes that resulted in damages of $20 million or more in 2017, according to the National Fire Protection Association, six were at wood-frame apartment buildings under construction.

These are definitely some of our smartest citizens!

6 thoughts on “American creativity

  1. Saw a midrise apartment complex under construction go up in flames, in 2006. Just 4 years earlier, the Santana row fire burned up another midrise nearby. The fires seem built into the construction cost. For those of us who can’t afford offsite backups, it’s a bit disturbing how our data can depend on a neighbor 5 stories down not overloading his multipliers.

    • You make me recall the stereotypical car/scooter accident in Malaysia. The scooter riders major concern is whether his scooter is still functional. And you worry about your data, in case of fire!!!

    • Apparently, developers choose to optimize for legal costs of major incidents. For instance, in case of a major fire in the building, they would like to minimize the costs of subsequent lawsuits by the tenants. No prizes for guessing what the most radical approach could be. 🙂

  2. Regarding fire risk, it seems like it’s 99% during construction when firestop barriers haven’t been put in yet and sprinklers aren’t on. At that point they are just piles of kindling. Once they’re complete they seem pretty safe, though still ugly as $&@!

    I’ve been condo shopping lately and no interest in any of those 5-over-1 buildings going up everywhere as I think they will age worse than Tori Spelling. I just don’t think stick-built construction is any good over three stories.

    As an aside, it’s interesting to note that in Japan houses are widely seen as consumables that depreciate slightly slower than the dishwasher.

    • Dense wood construction still seems a long-term disaster risk, when water pressure can drop and ignition sources are everywhere.

  3. Surely the capitalists and libertarians here would be against all fire codes? The responsible consumer should buy an apartment that meets their safety / cost profile ( and has plenty of storage space in case your garage is full ).

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