Flatiron, a new life for a Manhattan icon

The iconic New York City building at the center of a three-year redevelopment plan

The old cast-iron flat iron, the iron nose on the tip of the American steam locomotive to ward off cows and buffaloes, the so-called “cowcatcher,” or even a meager slice of cake. In over 120 years of existence, the Flatiron has been nicknamed in various ways for its unique triangular base, making it one of the most well-known and beloved buildings in the world and among the residents and visitors of New York.

Today, the peculiar 22-story building at 175 5th Avenue, at the intersection and intersection with Broadway, is about to enter a new era. Every day, even from the observatory at the top of the Empire State Building, the Flatiron is photographed, copied by artists, and posted on social media, even though it has long been covered by scaffolding. Few of its fans know that it is empty, almost completely vacant. Only the ground floor shops are still occupied by stores. From the first to the last floor, it has been vacant since 2019 when the building’s only tenant, the MacMillan Publishers group, left just before the pandemic.

The future of an American icon

The Flatiron, which has always been used for offices, is preparing to become a luxury residential building. The announcement was made just before the end of the year, and the (chronic) demand for housing in the heart of Manhattan has already begun. Official plans have not yet been presented, and the intentions of the owners are unknown. More residential units per floor or only one apartment per floor. In total, about twenty residences or a total of 40-50? For sale only or also for rent? It is likely that we will have to wait a few more months to have a well-defined typology, and above all, approved by the City.

Standing at 87 meters, designed by Chicago architect Daniel Burnham in Beaux-Arts style, designed to occupy a challenging triangular lot between 23rd Street, Fifth Avenue, and Broadway, overlooking Madison Square Park Conservancy, the building has intrigued New Yorkers who began to bet on its resistance to strong seasonal winds that hit precisely the point where the Flatiron is only 2 meters wide, only to change their minds after a magazine praised its triangular structure, seen in construction as the most solid geometric shape.

The neighborhood, named after the Flatiron, is one of the most expensive and sought-after in the Big Apple for residential construction. After MacMillan’s departure, the fate of the Flatiron seemed sealed, also because many corporations and companies redesigned office spaces immediately after the pandemic. The redesign of offices according to a hybrid model has brought to light an uncomfortable truth for the Flatiron and at the same time the opportunity for a rich future: its structure is old, it is better to completely rethink its use. No more offices, forward with luxury residences.

Three years of work to revive the old Flatiron

The announcement of a second life for the Flatiron was made by the Brodsky Organization, a New York-based company specializing in the renovation of historic buildings and neighborhoods in the city. Dean Amro, one of the company’s key figures, explained to The New York Times that the conversion of the Flatiron could take three years. After the approval of the Urban Planning Department, which could take a year, the demolition of internal structures and reconstruction for residential purposes can begin.

The Brodsky Organization, after a stalemate between the group of owners and an unsuccessful auction with a surprise buyer (financier Jacob Garlick, who then failed to pay the offered price), formed a partnership with the four main shareholders of the Flatiron, including Jeffrey Gural‘s GFP Holdings and the Italian Mainetti family’s Sorgente Group. The new partnership emphasized to the press that it intends to work closely with the Landmark Preservation Commission because the Flatiron is a symbol of New York.

Despite the admired external aesthetics, the offices of the Flatiron, according to various statements after the exit of the publishing house, were considered like small cages for rabbits (or, according to the most critical, for mice) with narrow elevators and oversized stairs, non-centralized air conditioning that forced large and noisy air conditioners at the windows, and obsolete fixtures made of wooden frames covered in copper, with dust and drafts that scattered manuscripts entrusted to the publishing house everywhere. However, employees and authors saw the beauty of the Flatiron precisely in this disorder, with books and files piled up everywhere.