Monday was pet portraits in a velvety lounge at 88 & 90 Lexington Avenue, a condominium development on 26th Street in New York City. Thursday was mixology in the chef’s kitchen at 121 East 22nd Street, the OMA-designed, prism-edged tower built by Toll Brothers.
Down at 56 Leonard, otherwise known as the Jenga building in TriBeCa, there were classes in bouquet making by Uprooted, the mobile florist; a mommy-and-me tea party; and a tacos and tequila fiesta for Cinco de Mayo. Color therapy, involving an installation of light and sound, designed to treat stress, is scheduled for June.
In shiny new developments all over Manhattan, the fulsome amenity spaces — lounges and screening rooms and chef’s kitchens — are being “activated,” as developers and artists like to say, with talks and classes, tastings, parties and panels, as if home is now an extension of the 92nd Street Y.
While the buildings of the last few booms adopted the embellishments and services of luxury hotels, this wave has been imprinted by the community-building behaviors of idealistic millennials — bees, horticulture, self-care! — and the tastes of the podcast class.
This is not wine and cheese on a card table, nor balloon-animal making by a clown in a basement playroom. Piquing the interests of the new condo cohort isn’t easy, and producing enticing events in hundreds of city buildings is no mere side hustle.
Companies that provide simple concierge service and amenity maintenance, like pool cleaning, have added event “curation” to their duties. In New York City, one of the biggest is LIVunltd, an amenity-servicing company overseeing more than 100 buildings. Its creative officer is Michael Fazio, a dapper 55-year-old who once worked for a Hollywood agent and whose duties for her included walking Jason Patric’s pet pig.
It was Mr. Fazio who invited Noah Wilson-Rich, a behavioral ecologist, chief scientific officer at Best Bees (a company that installs and manages beehives across the country) and veteran of the TED X circuit, to give a talk on urban beekeeping for the would-be residents of Waterline Square, a condominium complex near Lincoln Center expected to open later this year. Also on the roster: a panel on the science of scent; a talk on decoding dreams by a sleep doctor; an evening with an aura photographer; and a class in dancing while blindfolded.
“We think brain fitness is on trend, and it’s something we’re going to push out in the fall,” said Mr. Fazio, the co-author of “Concierge Confidential: The Secrets of Serving Champagne Bitches and Caviar Queens,” a 2011 memoir (with tips) of his years taking care of uppity guests at the InterContinental hotel.
On a recent afternoon, Mr. Fazio and his colleague Rachel Woodbridge, 29, a Parsons School of Design graduate who once worked at the fashion website Net-a-Porter and helped found a concierge start-up, were on a conference call with Game U, a company that teaches children how to build video games.
They were planning an event at 56 Leonard and hashing out the details: Would the kids be able to code in one session? Would it be enough of an experience? What would it cost? (About $100 per child, which Mr. Fazio thought could fit the building’s budget without charging extra. The cost of most events is built into a property’s running costs, he said, which are paid for in maintenance fees or by the developer.)
The next call was to Tom Leonardis, the president of Whoopi Goldberg’s company Whoop. Mr. Fazio wanted to create an event for Gay Pride Day around marriage equality: perhaps screen a few documentaries and organize a panel.
“If you were painting this picture, what would be discussed?” Mr. Leonardis said. “Would you want Whoopi to be a part of it? She’s doing a clothing line and opening Gay Pride at the Barclays Center.” Mr. Leonardis went on to describe an engagement ring he and others have designed for the L.G.B.T.Q. community, and also straight men. “It hasn’t launched,” he said. “You could have it first.”
Mr. Fazio gasped and said, “Oh my God! O.K.! Let me bake this a little bit more and get back to you.” Then he turned to Ms. Woodbridge. “Do we do serious, or light and breezy, a trunk show: destination weddings and the engagement rings?”
Mr. Fazio, Ms. Woodbridge and their small staff are now producing 90 to 120 events each month for more than 100 buildings. Research can be arduous; the other night they struggled through an immersive theater show called “The Imbible: A Spirited History of Drinking.”
Ideas may come from serendipitous street sightings or scouring Instagram. They court new businesses, and are courted back. Du’s Donuts and Coffee, the chef Wylie Dufresne’s exotic doughnut emporium in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, sent samples for LIV to test, after which LIV organized a few doughnut pop-ups in its buildings.
In return for their time and products, the businesses or individuals LIV approaches get exposure to a captive audience of time-starved affluent people who may not otherwise partake of their wares and expertise.
“We’ve probably exhausted hundreds of relationships,” Mr. Fazio said. “But it’s part of the life these people have bought into. It becomes part of a building’s story. Everyone has the same Bosch appliances, the same views, the same marble slab open kitchens. But you can say, ‘Move over Soho House and Core Club.’ You don’t have to belong to those, it’s in your building. So it’s just another asset. Just add water. Just add $6 million and you have friends and stuff to do and you’re in the know about, say, Wylie Dufresne’s doughnut shop in Brooklyn.”
Unless you win the affordable-housing lottery, you’ll need $6 million for three bedrooms and water views at Waterline Square: three glass towers with 263 condo units on five acres, more than half of them park, on the edge of the West Side Highway, stretching from 59th Street to 61st Street.
The exterior architecture is standard high luxury fare, by Richard Meier, Kohn Pederson Fox and Rafael Viñoly. (Each firm got its own building; the Viñoly one looks sort of like an iceberg).
Underneath will be a private underground mall called the Waterline Club, 100,000 square feet rendered into swoopy fabulousness by the Rockwell Group and outfitted like a college campus with a soccer field; a skate park; multiple gyms, pools and fitness studios; a tennis court; a gardening center; a recording studio; an art studio; a two-lane bowling alley; a dog run; and a 4,600-square-foot children’s playroom that looks like the Gryffindor common room by way of Disney.
Five years ago in Manhattan, according to the Corcoran Sunshine Marketing Group, there were 54 developments that were considered “luxury”; at the time, that meant units selling, on average, for $2,200 per square foot and up. Now there are 90, and the benchmark for “luxury” is $2,400 per square foot. (In 2012, there were just 31 such properties.)
Many of these buildings, rising in all sorts of commercial or less populated areas — “transitional neighborhoods,” as James Lansill, a managing director at Corcoran Sunshine, called them — may lack organic opportunities for socialization. Enter LIV and its competitors, which include a company called Luxury Attache and also in-house lifestyle managers.
Mr. Lansill was on the phone from the sales center of 130 William, a cast concrete tower at the southern tip of Manhattan that has just topped out at 800 feet and will be finished next year.
Its architect is David Adjaye, one of the designers of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington. It is quite beautiful — with arched windows that are a little bit Gaudí, a little bit Romanesque, a respite from all the glass towers — but its size and vast amenity spaces will create yet another enormous gated community, another urban suburb.
“The most precious commodity people have is time, and they value the efficiency of having robust resources in their vertical community,” Mr. Lansill said. “If you don’t have to leave your home to host a party, or your kid’s party, or go to the gym or see a movie, that’s truly valuable.”
And then there’s that major commitment of many Manhattan women: hair. Lauren Witkoff, executive vice president of Witkoff, one of the developers of 111 Murray Street (another Kohn Pederson Fox tower on the edge of TriBeCa), has invited the blowout chain Drybar into the amenity spaces there.
“It’s the only private Drybar in the city,” Ms. Witkoff said, adding that she was working with Creative Art Partners, an “art concierge service” in Los Angeles, to help residents build their own art collections. “We’re always trying to do something a little different. It’s not just, ‘What amenities are we going to put in the building?’ But ‘how are we going to activate them in a way that’s meaningful?’”
The Vertical Suburb
In “The Great Good Place: Cafes, Coffee Shops, Bookstores, Bars, Hair Salons, and Other Hangouts at the Heart of Community,” which was published in 1989, the sociologist Ray Oldenburg wrote about the importance of the “third place”: that which is not home and not work, a ballast in a society where home life is increasingly isolated.
If there is no informal public life, he wrote, if the “means and facilities for relaxation and leisure are not publicly shared, they become the objects of private ownership and consumption.”
That’s not good for cities. So many buildings have devoted so much interior space to what used to be public places — hair salons and gyms and theaters and food courts — it may begin to feel like the city is turning inside out, ringed by walls of glass as smooth and blank as Kim Kardashian’s skin.
Not everyone is wringing their hands. Richard Florida, a professor at the School of Cities at the University of Toronto and the author of “The New Urban Crisis,” cautions against reflexively dismissing these fastidious private developments, and romanticizing New York City’s grittier past, even if it was chockablock with authentic “third places” like seedy bars and diners.
“Every time people say New York is over, it transforms,” he said. “New York was never held back by its past. Everyone is complaining about Hudson Yards, but they don’t get it. Hudson Yards is not for New Yorkers. It’s made for a lot of people who lived in a suburb and want to be in a city that’s not gritty or dirty.”
Yes, he conceded, “some of these neighborhoods are becoming the equivalent of vertical suburbs. Now combine that with everyone on their cellphones and social media, instead of talking to people at the bar. And you have the modern, tech-induced version of David Riesman’s lonely crowd.”
The binding element, he suggested, may be the community and connection found in blindfold dancing with your neighbors, or at a panel of CBD entrepreneurs and wellness experts, like the one convened by Mr. Fazio on April 20 (“Lit in Luxury,” he called it). Or hey, pet portraits.
“I never lived in a building before where I talked to my neighbors,” said Colleen Tanjeloff, who is on the board of 88 & 90 Lexington and had brought her two-year-old son and Lou, a 13-year-old Yorkiepoo, to the pet portraits party in her lounge.
There, Roxy, a gassy yet beguiling Boston terrier, had her mug sketched by Laura Supnik, an illustrator in Brooklyn, without straying from the lap of her owner, Jodi Balkan, the principal of a public relations firm. (“She doesn’t like people or other dogs,” Ms. Balkan said.)
Ms. Balkan and Ms. Tanjeloff noted that new developments aren’t like traditional co-ops or rental buildings. “Everyone is new and everyone arrives at about the same time,” Ms. Tanjeloff said.
Their building is rife with amenities, including a plush screening room that Ms. Tanjeloff and other residents with small children use as a playground in the colder months — no programming required. “We call it the kids’ track,” she said. “We lie back in those reclining seats with our coffee and let them run around us.”
Penelope Green is a Style reporter, covering home, garden and the built environment. She has been a reporter for the Home section, editor of Styles of The Times, an early iteration of Style, and a story editor at The New York Times Magazine. She lives in Manhattan. @greenpnyt • Facebook
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