The view of Manhattan from Hastings has changed significantly over the past decade, with the addition of tall and slender skyscrapers engineered by longtime Hastings resident Silvian Marcus.
Marcus is director of building structures at WSP USA, an international engineering and professional services consultancy. His career as a structural engineer spans five decades and includes consulting on the Freedom Tower and other structures at Ground Zero, incorporating safety features that were missing in the original World Trade Center buildings.
His work on the new super-slender towers — such as 432 Park Avenue, the MOMA tower, and Hudson Yards Tower D — has shone the spotlight on him even brighter than usual. In October, Marcus, 83, was named the winner of the 2021 Legacy Award by the magazine Engineering News-Record of New York.
“I am actively working,” Marcus told the Enterprise. “I have a few structures I’m working on, one on Fifth Avenue, the other near the Javits Center, one in Long Island City, and many more. Each building is different, and that’s what makes life very exciting and enjoyable.”
Marcus considers himself lucky to be in a profession where he can overcome challenges. “We can see with our own eyes the product of the drawing that we make,” he said. “They come to me and say, ‘We have to make this building to stand up, to be safe.’”
Marcus and his wife, Lily, an architect, grew up in Bucharest, Romania, although they met when they were both students at the Technion, Israel’s institute of technology. They have lived in Hastings for over 40 years. Until 2020, they owned the Moviehouse Mews building on Warburton Avenue, where Lily had her architectural office on the second floor.
They bought their house in the village in 1974, a few years after moving to New York from Israel, after he was offered an engineering job in Manhattan. They had been renting on West 66th Street in Manhattan, taking car trips to the suburbs on weekends with their baby daughter, Galith. “It was sort of a fatal attraction toward the first village that we found on the Saw Mill,” he said. “We took the exit on Farragut... it was love at first sight.”
Marcus’s love for Hastings hasn’t waned, and neither has his fascination with skyscrapers, not only “the part that makes the building stand up, but also being comfortable for the occupants when the winds are blowing, or it’s an earthquake.”
While earthquakes aren’t a major problem in New York, “Here on the East Coast, wind is the Enemy Number One,” he said. “The wind makes the building move — any building, tall or less tall, all the buildings are moving. On the one hand, there is the impossibility of making the building not to move. But on the other hand is the question of how much it will move so that the movement will be acceptable to the occupants. When you’re home you don’t want to feel like you’re on an airplane or a boat. When you’re home at the dining table or in the bed you don’t expect the movement.”
Hailed as the world’s tallest residential tower, 432 Park Avenue has many special engineering features to help the building decrease the acceleration caused by wind. “There are five open floors that let the wind go through,” he said. “So they deceive the wind, in a way... it’s the same as having a sail, and poking holes in the sail so the wind goes through.”
Atop the structure a set of huge weights, called “dampers,” are suspended on cables. Marcus described them as “like shock absorbers in a car... they are sort of pulling back the building, naturally pulling back. It’s a physical mechanism that works wonderfully to reduce that acceleration, and reducing the possibility of the occupants feeling that movement.”
Marcus is also excited about 111 West 57th, an 84-story building adjacent to Steinway Hall. It is 1,428 feet tall, but only 59 feet wide. In a city where the “slenderness” of a building earns profits for developers and prestige for ultra-rich apartment owners, this may be the slenderest.
“The ‘slenderness’ of the building is the ratio between the height divided by the width of the building,” Marcus explained. “And for 111, this ratio is 1/24. It’s, I believe, a world record of construction.”
Marcus said the engineering of 111 was extremely “delicate.”
“I think it is going to be a sort of a jewel, and I am waiting for its completion,” he said. “It’s supposed to be this year.”
Developers of super-tall buildings have taken advantage of controversial New York building codes that, when calculating allowable building height, don’t count floors devoted only to building mechanicals. Marcus admits to mixed feeling about these projects because of such issues as the shadows they cast on Central Park, and the lack of an organized plan for where they are located.
“This is Manhattan — you either love it or leave it,” he said. But he noted that New York City has been all about its skyscrapers ever since the Metropolitan Life Building at 24th Street went up in 1907. It was engineered to be a shocking 700 feet tall, at a time when most people were still getting around by horse and carriage.
When he and his wife stay at their second home, an apartment in Manhattan, they take a walk every morning. “I believe I cannot walk more than two or three blocks almost anywhere [in Manhattan] without hitting one of the buildings I was involved with,” Marcus said. “That is a legacy that makes me very happy.”