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Tower by Selldorf Offers Lofty Perk: Private "Sky" Garages

August 10, 2009

By Nadine M. Post
This article originally appeared in Engineering News-Record

Lifestyle doyenne Martha Stewart, more at home with comforters than cars, likely never dreamed her commuting-to-work routine would inspire a way of living, which could be called insider parking. But the developer of a 19-story residential building nearing completion in Manhattan, just blocks from the 19-story Starret-Lehigh building where Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia Inc. has its offices, modeled its 15 “sky” garages after Stewart’s habit of driving her vehicle straight into the freight elevator and up to her office.

The tower, called 200 Eleventh Avenue, is being built in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood.
Image courtesy Selldorf Architects
The tower, called 200 Eleventh Avenue, is being built in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood. Residents will drive through a gate and into a lift, which will take them to the private garage attached to their apartments.
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The new residential building, designed by Selldorf Architects, takes the privacy and parking ease of a gated community from the burbs to the "urbs" and turns it on end. Called 200 Eleventh Avenue, it is said to be the first high-rise in the U.S. to provide individual parking "rooms," one outside each of the tower's duplexes.

The developer sees the “attached” garages as a market differentiator but knew there would be process hurdles regarding permitting and acceptance hurdles for the garages, especially concerning fire safety. The garages, within the tower’s 1-ft-thick concrete core, have “crash walls,” fire doors and walls with three-hour ratings instead of one or two, and mechanical ventilation.

“We knew there would be a lot of attention and wanted to mitigate any concerns, so we went above and beyond” the code for a garage, says Glauco Lolli-Ghetti, operating partner for the project’s local developer, Gaia House, a partnership of Urban Muse and Young Woo & Associates.

The building, which faces the Hudson River, has a 16-story tower, 82 ft x 42 ft in plan, sitting on a three-story plinth, 99 ft x 75 ft in plan. The garage and car lift are 45 ft long and project 8 ft from the back east-facing wall. Each typical duplex takes up half of either the north or south footprint. Units are staggered vertically, with the kitchen and living space of one adjacent to bedroom space of another. The 350-sq-ft garage is assigned to the apartment with the kitchen on that level, says Marc Pittsley, project manager for Selldorf Architects. Every duplex has access to a common hallway at both levels, which contains fire stairs and garage access. On alternating floors, garage access is either down the hall or across the hall from the kitchen door.

Drivers enter the site through a gate on the west side, drive to the back of the site, turn left into the car lift, ride to the appropriate floor and back out of the lift into the garage. When leaving, the car moves forward into the car lift. When at grade, it moves straight ahead to an exit on the north side of the property.

The garage levels serve as a separate but attached structure. The buildings department, which approved the drawings, was more concerned with fire ratings than anything else, says the developer. Typically, a fire separation with a rating of one to two hours is required between a residential occupancy and an adjacent private garage, says the architect.

Construction of the building, which has no basement because of the high water table, is pretty typical, except for the ventilated garages. But there is little that is typical on the development side. The plans had to go through the city’s land-use process because, as of right, the building could have only three parking spaces, based on 20% of the number of units.

The building costs about 15% to 20% more than if the garage rooms were conventional residential space. “Everything about the development was a cost premium,” says Lolli-Ghetti.

There were more consultants involved. There was more rebar needed in the crash walls, even though the structural engineer said no car would ever be able to pick up the velocity to go through the wall, Lolli-Ghetti adds. The garage-room mechanical systems had to be incorporated into the building maintenance system. And there is a sky-garage security system.

The building, scheduled to open this fall, is 75% to 80% sold. One remaining duplex, at 2,364 sq ft, has a $6.4-million price tag, with the garage included.

The developer, having been through the learning curve on this project, says he would do sky garages again, with the right site in the right city.

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