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Three Waterline Square, 639 West 59th Street: Review and Ratings

between Riverside Boulevard & West End Avenue View Full Building Profile

Carter Horsley
Review of 639 West 59th Street by Carter Horsley


This 34-story tower at 639 West 59th Street is known as Three Waterline Square and has been designed by Rafael Vinoly, the architect of the sheer, 1,396-foot-tall, residential condominium tower at 432 Park Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets and Madison and Park Avenues that was the tallest in the Western Hemisphere when it was erected in 2015.

It is one of three towers on trapezoidal sites at the five-acre Waterline Square developed by General Investment and Development Companies (GID) and Henley Holding Company, a subsidiary of the Abu Dhabi Development Authority, with a total of 1,1320 condominium and rental apartments and 20 percent of that total will be "affordable."  This tower will have 167 rental units and 47 condo units with each type having its own entrance,  Interiors by Groves & Co.

The other two towers in this complex have been designed, disparately, by Richard Meier & Partners and Kohn Pedersen Fox.  They are rather awkward in comparison with this tower, which is not pristine but at least dramatically interesting with its bold façades.

Hill West is the executive architect for the entire complex.

Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects have designed the center, a 2.6-acre park that will connect to the Riverside Park South esplanade.

The most attractive of the three rather ungainly and completely dissimilar Waterline Square towers, this one, designed by Rafael Vinoly, has a “netted” façade that seems to “burst” with uneven banding containing its bulging form in complete contrast to the rigid grid façade of his much taller and very famous tower at 432 Park Avenue.

In a February 14, 2017 “market insight” article on the project at, Ondel Hylton  noted that “the drunkenly pinstriped building will rise 34 stories and hold 244 units – its bottom flared outward and its top sloping inward to create a glass-enclosed sky room, shattered by a cobweb of structural elements.”

Its exterior piers rise with some slight and visually awkward shifts, but they do not cross others as they do dramatically and elegantly at the top of the roof.

The building’s lobby is partially angled and its “seams” at the angles have thin illuminated strips.

The “social hub” has a spiral staircase and an elevated walkway beneath a very dizzying ceiling of undulating “ribs.”

This and the other two Waterline Square towers follow the general massing outline in the master plan for the site by Christian Portzamparc for Extell Development, who designed One57, the first SuperTall on Billionaires’ Row at 157 West 57th Street across from Carnegie Hall for Extell.

Extell had bought the south end of Donald Trump’s Trump Place development that extended Riverside Drive southwards and erected several residential towers that were generally compatible with what Trump had already developed along the strip.

Extell decided, however, to sell off five tower sites at the bottom of the strip.



The complex has doormen and concierges and a three-level, underground, 90,000-square-foot, amenities facility designed by David Rockwell including an indoor tennis court, a squash court, a rock-climbing wall, a half-pipe skate park, a golf simulator, an indoor soccer field, a 25-meter, 3-lane lap pool, a children’s pool, a two-lane bowling alley, a gardening studio, recording studio, a cards parlor, a games lounge, a screening room, and pilates, boxing, and yoga studios.  There is also a washing station for pets, a training station for pets



The location of Waterline Square is part of a much larger site that has a very complicated history.

Waterline Square is the final phase of the Riverside South plan created by Donald Trump to redevelop a 77-acre freight rail-yard once owned by the Penn Central Railroad facing the Hudson River between 59th and 72nd streets after a plan to build a 12,000-unit Litho City was not realized by the railroad and Local 1 of the Amalgamated Lithographers Union.

In their great book, “New York 1960, Architecture and Urbanism Between The Second World War and the Bicentennial,” Robert A. M. Stern, Thomas Mellins and David Fishman provided the following commentary:

“Edward Swayduck, the union’s local president, asked Peter Blake, the managing editor of Architectural Forum, to recommend and architect for the immense project, and without hesitation he recommended Le Corbusier.  Swayduck and several associates went to Paris to meet with the architect, but Le Corbusier would not see them.  Blake would later write that “a rather wonderful opportunity was missed,” explaining that “although Corbu’s Litho City might not have met the standards newly established by Jane Jacobs, it might have been a superb prototype – if only one to against which to rebel”  Ultimately the job went to the firm of Kelly & Gruzen; the project designers were Jordan Gruzen, Peter Samton and the Corbusier-influenced Mario Romanach….Kelly & Gruzen’s design consisted by nine apartment towers ranging in height from forty-one to forty-nine stories, placed amid landscaped grounds; enclosed parking facilities were located beneath.  Schools, including the proposed United World Center, an international educational facility serving 1,000 students as well as foreign diplomats – a twenty-story motel, shops, a marina, a luxury liner  pier and a waterfront park were to complete the middle-income residential development, which was intended to accommodate 25,000 people….The project died in 1966 when union leaders claimed that Penn-Central had impeded progress and railroad officials countercharged that the union had not delivered the requisite performance bond….In 1974, the fledging developed Donald Trump announced his intention to erect a massive housing development on the former Litho City site….Two years later, with no construction begun, Trump called for the rerouting of the West Side Highway to the east of the Litho City site and the extension of Riverside Park south from Seventy-Second to Fifty-Ninth Street….Neither that proposal nor Trump’s general plans for the site progressed.”

The Kelly & Gruzen plan was sensational with seven tall slab towers perpendicular to the river with very handsome façades with varying balcony heights forming a formidable phalanx of very impressive Corbu-style towers rising from a four-story, stepped and very long bank of townhouses.

Mr. Trump acquired the site in 1974 and then sold it to Jacopo Finkelstein, an Argentinian developer who hoped to building a 22-building plan designed by Rafael Vinoly.  In 1985, Mr. Trump and Abe Hirschfeld repurchased the site for $100 million.

In 1986 Trump proposed a 14.5-million-square-foot development named Television City. The plan designed by Chicago-based Helmut Jahn would have new studios for NBC, 7,600 apartments in 60- and 70-story towers, a regional shopping mall, a 40-acre park, and as its centerpiece: a 150-story, three-pronged tower that would be the tallest in the world.

The name Riverside South was conceived by a group of civic organizations in 1989 who were rallying against Donald Trump’s proposal. Shortly after the Riverside South plan was approved in 1992, Trump faced bankruptcy and sold the site to a group of Hong Kong investors. Like many ventures bearing the Trump name, the developer would remain as the public face of the project and its first buildings would be proudly emblazoned with 'Trump Place' (in gold, of course). The approved plans, negotiated with the community, recommended that the building designs and massings evoke the twin-towered skyline of Central Park West skyline.

The Trump towers comprised three rental buildings, at 140, 160 and 180 Riverside Boulevard, and three condo towers, at 140, 220, and 240 Riverside Boulevard (The Heritage).

In 2009, the Hong Kong investors sold the land to Gary Barnett’s Extell Development and the Carlyle Group for $1.76 billion, prompting Trump to file suit against his Hong Kong partners for allegedly underselling the site.

The three rentals were later sold to Equity Residential, and recently, after the successful petition of residents, had the Trump name was removed.

Extell Development would go on to build the Avery at 100 Riverside Boulevard, the Rushmore at 80 Riverside Boulevard, the Aldyn at 60 Riverside Boulevard and One Riverside Park at 50 Riverside Boulevard (the “poor door” building).

The southern 8-acre parking lot, bound by 59th and 61st Street, West End Avenue and the river, was reserved for 1.8 million square feet of commercial development; first to be anchored by NBC television studios and then Columbia University.

In 2009, Extell sought to rezone the superblock to dramatically increase its residential potential. Dubbed Riverside Center, drawings had a crystalline cluster of 5 towers sculpted by One57-designer Christian de Portzamparc. The plan was to include 2,500 apartments (20% affordable), a 250-room hotel, 104,000 square feet of office space, and a kindergarten-through-eighth grade school. The City Planning Commission and City Council gave the green light to rezoning in 2010, praising both its design and the embedded affordable housing units.

After successfully rezoning the site, Extell sold off all of Riverside Center’s parcels to various developers.

The first building opened last year at the northeast corner of the block at 21 West End Avenue. Developed by the Dermot Company and the Carlyle Group, the building has a pre-K through 8th grade school and 616 rental apartments.

Next door, at the southeast corner of the superblock a shimmering condo tower One West End is being developed by Elad and Silverstein Properties. Still under construction, the building is designed by Pelli Clarke Pelli with Jeffrey Beers as the interior designer. The 42-story building will have 246 condos.

Extell sold the remainder of the Riverside Center superblock to Boston-based GID for $676 million. The towers will encircle a public park designed by Mathews Nielsen Landscape Architects which will connect to the Riverside Park South esplanade on the Hudson River.

The towers at Waterline Square are quite different and almost deconstructivist in contrast with the rigid rectilinearity and glitz of the rest of the Trump/Extell/Dermot-Carlyle and Elad-Silverstein towers.

The three towers will have about 1,100 condo and rental units and are designed by different architects.

Richard Meier & Partners has designed One Watertower Place, a 36-story tower with 288 units at the southwest corner of 59th Street and the to-be-extended Riverside Boulevard. 

Kohn Pedersen Fox has designed Two Watertower Place, a 656-unit project straddling the blocks of the 61st Street edge with a ragged roofline reaching up to 38 floors.

Rafael Vinoly has designed the 34-story, 244-unit, Three Watertower Place, positioned midblock along West 59th Street between One West End Avenue and One Waterline Square.

Hill West, a successor firm to Costas Kondylis who designed most of the Trump buildings here, will serve as executive architects on all the new buildings.

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