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Skinny Revolution

Felix Baumann
New York

Some of New York’s signature shots will soon be drastically changing: Very tall, and above all, very skinny buildings will give the city a new look.

Some skinny changes are going on with New York’s skyline: Rendering of the Steinway Tower and the One 57 at the “Billionaires Row” | Credits: SHoP Architects via Dezeen




New York, the city that never sleeps, is famous for its iconic cityscapes. Almost everyone immediately recognises the metropolis in photos, advertisements and movies. But some of its signature shots will soon be drastically changing: Very tall, and above all, very skinny buildings will give the city a new look. Amongst other things the famed tourist-view from the Empire State Building or the Rockefeller Centre across the Central Park will partially be blocked by these architectural marvels. Developments in the real estate market for the super-rich and recent advances in construction technologies have triggered this revolution.

Ten New Supertalls Under Construction

To make the dimensions clear: Today there are eight supertall buildings, which are defined as those that rise above 300m. In the next few years ten more supertalls will be added to the New York skyline. And with them another evolution is taking place. Eight of the new skyscrapers will be residential buildings, whereas most of the older supertalls are office towers. The first impact on the skyline was made by the 432 Park Avenue building, which stands 426 metres. It was topped out in 2015 and is clearly taller than the nearby Empire State Building. With its width of less than 30 metres and its width-height ratio of 1:15 it looks breathtakingly thin. With the Central Park Tower (472m), the Steinway Tower (435m), and the One Vanderbilt Place (427m), three more skinny residential supertalls above 400 metres will soon be completed. They are all in close proximity to Central Park and will be taller than both the Empire State Building and the former World Trade Center.

New Demands and New Technologies

The massive construction activity is being driven by the global real estate market of the super-rich. The average apartment in 432 Park Avenue is listed at around $32 mil, while units on the higher levels cost up to a staggering $82 mil. 53rd Street, were several of these new supertalls are being built, is already called “Billionaire’s Row”. But how is it possible to build such incredible thin supertalls? First, you have to consider the relatively small footprint of building mechanics at the centre of residential towers. Instead of hundreds of business people, only a few residents live on each floor, so far fewer elevators are needed. Furthermore, many super-rich prefer to own their own storeys, fuelling demand for more compact designs. Another breakthrough was made by concrete manufacturers. In recent years, innovative concrete mixes have more than doubled its strength, making new width-height building ratios possible. The Steinway Tower will have an astonishing width-height ratio of 1:24. But of course the new skinny supertalls are very controversial among New Yorkers and architects. Some like them for their exciting architecture and their sheer height, while others think the towers would be better suited for a city like Dubai. Additionally, the supertalls embody the displacement processes that Manhattan is also struggling with.

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