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The ‘666’ Skyscraper That Could Sink the Kushners

Whatever his other flaws as a human being, Jared Kushner is surely afflicted with Skyscraper Envy.

Like his father-in-law the president, Kushner wants his own tower—as big as it can possibly be.

The story of that tower, 666 Fifth Ave., hangs over the fate of the Kushner real estate empire like a curse. It is also part of a great and continuing American saga of how the modern skyline of cities is shaped by a handful of men of genius and others who, in contrast, just see the skyscraper as a way to fill the sky with a money machine.

In the early 1950s Midtown Manhattan seemed ripe for a new boom in high-rise real estate, picking up again from the decade before World War II when three iconic architectural achievements had given New York the most dynamic urban skyline in the world: in 1930 the Chrysler Building with its spiked tip looking like a Buck Rogers rocket; in 1931, the world’s tallest building, the Empire State Building; and the massive Rockefeller Center between Sixth and Fifth Avenues, a multi-tower complex completed in 1939.

Rockefeller Center had, thanks to the largesse of the Rockefeller family, been built to lift American spirits as a counter-punch to the ravages of the Great Depression. Now, after the war, with many European cities in ruins, many of the architects who bore in their minds a dream of what the metropolis of the future should look like, were drawn to America.

None was more visionary or more regarded as a founding hand in shaping the city of the future—or, as it was often described, the city of the Machine Age—than Mies van der Rohe.

Mies (as he was always known) was one of a cadre of architects who fled Nazi Germany when their progressive ideas nurtured at the legendary Bauhaus design school were, like all modern art, dismissed as decadent.

When he came to America Mies went not to New York but to the city where Louis Sullivan gave birth to the skyscraper in the 1890s, the city regarded as the most creatively sympathetic host to modernism in the world: Chicago. In his first buildings there, two 26-story apartment towers, Mies instantly became to modern architecture what Steve Jobs became later to the cellphone: He stripped the form down to the pure essentials of function and, in doing so, created a singular, austere beauty.

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