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Building on rooftops in New York City is really tough

Hedge fund manager Bill Ackman is a pretty wealthy guy and so it is fairly safe to assume that he could choose to live almost anywhere. For some people the ideal might be a low-rise house with a backyard in the suburbs.

But since 2018, Ackman has chosen a kind of penthouse apartment on the roof of a 1920’s co-op building in Manhattan’s Upper West Side. It was formerly the home of author Nancy Friday and Ackman supposedly purchased it for $22.5 million.

He is now looking to demolish the penthouse and build a new two-storey residence designed by architect Norman Foster. The design looks like this, which kind of reminds me of Philip Johnson’s The Glass House:

Today it was in the news that Ackman has been having a fun time trying to convince his co-op board that a new set of glass boxes on the roof their building is a good idea. FT reported that the project has created “an atmosphere of fear and distrust among residents in the building.”

I’m not exactly sure what it is about this proposal that is causing fear and distrust but Ackman is on record saying that he thinks this isn’t about heritage preservation or architectural integrity; it’s about people not wanting the disruption that comes along with construction. Fair.

One way to test this, I suppose, is to propose something more traditional or similar to what’s already there. But I suspect that the other dynamic at play here is simply that he is a rich guy with a starchitect trying to build something cool.

Building things is tough.

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