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Robert Stern's Kudzu Condominiums


Kudzu Condos

15 Central Park West, first of the kudzu condos.

April 27, 2018

In the South they have kudzu, a fast-growing ground cover that was planted to halt soil erosion but wound up devouring entire forests. Here in New York City, it’s beginning to look like we have a very different variety of kudzu: the fast-growing portfolio of look-alike limestone condominiums designed by Robert A.M. Stern

The original seedling of Stern’s portfolio was the condo at 15 Central Park West, which opened in 2008, just before the last real-estate bubble burst and brought on the Great Recession. Even before construction was complete, Bloomberg reports, the building set sales records, including $43.7 million for the penthouse. Soon celebrities flocked to the place, including A-Rod, Sting, and Robert De Niro

Stern, a former dean of the Yale School of Architecture, had hit on a winning formula: a building that looked like an old-school, pre-war co-op but acted like a 21st-century condo. Buyers didn’t have to go before a sniffy co-op board, which would likely frown on celebrities, foreign buyers, or shell companies. And unlike many co-op shareholders, the buyers at 15 CPW were free to rent out their apartments. 

“Fifteen Central Park West changed real estate,” says Donna Olshan, president of Olshan Realty and publisher of the Olshan Luxury Market Report. “All of a sudden it became extremely cool and elitist to live in that building, and it set the tone for condominiums that came after.” 

There are now half a dozen Stern projects under construction in Manhattan, all of them spawned by 15 CPW. They’re conservative, buttoned-down buildings – with none of the dazzle of such starchitects as Frank Gehry, Jean Nouvel, or Bjarke Ingels. Which proves that in New York real estate, as in Hollywood movies, nothing succeeds like repeat success. The Fast and the Furious 8, anyone? The same thinking applies to 15 CPW. “It was seen as a successful template,” says the real estate appraiser and consultant Jonathan Miller. “Why on Earth would 220 Central Park South use the same architect as a ­building that’s a quarter-­mile away facing the park? Because it sold. The genre of [star­chitecture] is defined by creating something unique. The multiple versions of 15 Central Park West are a conservative version of something new.” 

And they’re spreading like kudzu across Manhattan, from Central Park to Tribeca.

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