Architecture, like politics and war, springs from a million separate decisions made within the context of vast historical forces, decisions that can seem freer or more meaningful than they really are. At Hudson Yards, the path to the ribbon-cutting followed an inexorable trajectory based on impregnable financial logic. Underutilized space must be reclaimed for its highest and best use. The MTA needed cash. Costs were high, so potential profits had to be too. The most efficient way to finance and engineer the project was to hand it off to a single developer, who was only ever going to build a city as a luxury product. Each decision made the next one essentially foreordained.

At times, that relentless march of circumstance can produce results that look insane or visionary, depending on the month. Conceived in the wake of the 2008 recession and executed during the boom that followed, the megadevelopment opens onto a troubling future. The market for ultradeluxe condos is sagging, and we'll see whether that's one of the shocks that Hudson Yards is built to withstand. A dozen years ago, it seemed obvious that retail would prop up a shaky market for office space. Now the opposite is true. The 720,000-square-foot mall comes online even as storefronts are shuttering all over New York and Amazon threatens the whole concept of entering a shop with money and walking out with a shopping bag. On the other hand, businesses that were once squeamish about relocating to an uncertain frontier zone are now gobbling up square footage. Companies like Coach, L'Oréal, Warner Media, Wells Fargo, and Boston Consulting Group will cohabit with creations of the millennial boom like Stonepeak, and the demand for office space seems likely to outpace the current glut.

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