A Richard Meier Building. In Black.

Sixteen years after he agreed to buy the last large undeveloped site on the Far East Side, the billionaire developer Sheldon H. Solow has finally begun construction on a new residential tower there.

Designed by the Pritzker Prize-winning architect Richard Meier, the 556-unit building, 685 First Avenue, is going up just south of the United Nations headquarters on the westernmost lot of the long-dormant site, which stretches along the Franklin D. Roosevelt Drive from 35th Street to 41st Street. It will be the first building that Mr. Meier, known for his Modernist style and white aesthetic, has designed in black.

Rising to 42 stories on the west side of First Avenue between 39th and 40th Streets, the tower will wrap 408 rentals and 148 condominiums in a black glass curtain wall. On the western facade, 69 balconies will offer city views of Midtown. On the eastern side, a recessed niche cut into the 27th and 28th floors, which marks where the rentals end and the condos begin, will light up at night, making its imprint on the city skyline.

“It’s a minimalistic expression,” said Mr. Meier, who is also designing the interiors. “I would like to think in terms of its height and proportion that it relates to the United Nations building.”


At about 460 feet, 685 First Avenue will be the architect’s tallest in Manhattan, but just shy of the United Nations Secretariat Building’s 505 feet. Unlike some other glass-sheathed buildings that put residents on display or end up looking like a patchwork of uneven drapes, the black glass facade will shield the interiors during the day.

“You would not see all the drapes and the people inside, so the building looks very uniform,” said Dukho Yeon, an associate partner at Richard Meier & Partners Architects, who is working on the building with Mr. Meier and Mr. Solow. From the inside looking out, however, the black glass will be transparent.

The interiors will be shades of white, incorporating white oak flooring, white lacquer kitchen cabinetry, and light colored stone counters. Prices have not yet been determined for the condos or rentals, which are expected to open by early 2019.

Shared amenities include a 70-foot lap pool, a fitness center, a yoga room, a children’s playroom, a game room and on-site parking.

“It’s going to be a particularly fine, refined-looking building,” said Mr. Solow, who is known for black monolithic towers like his namesake at 9 West 57th Street, and who convinced Mr. Meier to change his palette for the project.

The building has certainly been a long time coming. Mr. Solow entered into a contract in 2000 to buy three East Side parcels across some nine acres from Consolidated Edison in a partnership with the Fisher real estate family. The total price was $630 million.

Over the years, the partnership dissolved, and Mr. Solow proceeded alone with the proposal to rezone the area from manufacturing to allow for residential, commercial and open space uses. He negotiated with city agencies and tussled with the community board en route to approval, and spent more than $100 million on environmental cleanup.


In 2008, the city approved a master plan designed in collaboration with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill and Richard Meier & Partners that originally included six residential towers, an office building, five acres of public parks and walkways, a public school and affordable housing. But work stalled after the recession.

In 2010, Mr. Solow sold a slice of the site at the northeast corner of First Avenue and 35th Street to the city’s School Construction Authority for $33.25 million, where Public School 281, also known as the River School, now stands at 425 East 35th Street. In 2013, he sold just over an acre between 35th and 36th Streets for $172 million to the JDS Development Group, which is building two luxury rental towers with some 800 units, with leasing expected to begin by the end of the year. Called the American Copper Buildings, the two bending towers, designed by SHoP Architects, are clad in copper and are connected by a three-story skybridge that contains a lap pool on one of the floors.

It wasn’t until March that construction finally began on the foundation for 685 First Avenue.

“It’s very, very unusual in Manhattan, given the way the market has been now for years, that this land would remain empty,” said State Senator Liz Krueger, whose district includes Midtown East.

Mr. Solow still has intentions to develop the rest of the site but declined to offer further details. A publicist gave this statement on his behalf: “I really prefer to build one building at a time.”

By Michelle Higgins The New York Times

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