Stern’s 250 W81st tops out

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From the website of 250 West 81st St. by Robert A.M. Stern Architects. (RAMSA)

Robert A. M. Stern’s latest Manhattan apartment building at 250 West 81st St., on a corner of Broadway, recently topped out. That means the top of the building’s steel structure of girders has been achieved. It is 209 feet tall, or about 18 stories by my count, based on the drawing above. I am entirely pumped about this building (“The New Classic Upper West Side Apartment House“). The renderings, by Williams New York, paint a gorgeosity of beauty, if I may be permitted to thus describe its appearance.’s article from last June 12, “Construction begins on new Upper West Side condo,” confirms the building’s height as 18 stories, includes more details on amenities within the building, and notes that its predecessor was a three-story retail building whose demolition was completed last winter. It was a very attractive building, but the replacement of an attractive building with an arguably more attractive building, or at least a larger building of equal allure, reflects an admirable return to the status quo ante – that is, the situation before, say, 1950, after which it became conventional to worry that any building demolished would likely be replaced by something worse.

So this is progress. The big question is how long will it take before New Yorkers in the vicinity forget that the new building wasn’t erected decades ago? Will 250 West 81st become, in the public eye, just another survivor, admirable as that certainly will be? People will eventually get used to a lovelier neighborhood, just as they have been forced to accustom themselves to uglier neighborhoods, forced to turn that smile upside down.

To better encourage the construction of new traditional buildings like 250 West 81st at a higher rate requires the construction of a major building that nobody will confuse with a building that has always been there. Buildings like this are mother’s milk to a society that yearns for a revival of its civic pride. This building will help, but a bigger boost would arise from rebuilding Pennsylvania Station as it was originally designed (with updates, of course, in technology, transportation, commercial amenities, etc.) in 1910 by McKim Mead & White. You can see plans for that project at Rebuild Penn Station. After that, it’s Katy bar the door for the classical revival.

At first I thought 250 West 81st was done and these were photographs, but no, they are two renderings by Williams New York. Below that is a photo of the building torn down for the new project.

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The building demolished to make way for the much taller 250 West 81st. (CityRealty)

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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3 Responses to Stern’s 250 W81st tops out

  1. Deon Brown says:

    That location of Shakespeare & Co. closed down waaaay back in 1996! They were there for 15 years — not an eternity. They simply couldn’t compete with the lower prices of big boxes like Barnes & Noble at the time. (Who knows how many B&N’s are still open now?)


  2. Eric Daum says:

    Lovely building, but sadly the site of the late lamented Shakespeare & Co bookstore.


    • Was it? Quel dommage! I stayed at a hotel in Paris that was around the corner from a bookstore with, I think, the same name right across the river from Notre Dame. I wonder if it (the bookstore) is still there.


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