A recent trend in skyscraper development, especially in New York City, has been pencil-thin, almost toothpick-like skyscrapers built on very small/narrow parcels. These slender towers look almost anorexic in appearance compared to many of their predecessors (see comparison graphic below).
Generally a height-to-width (slenderness) ratio exceeding roughly 12:1 is considered a slender skyscraper. Stronger and more durable building materials are allowing for the development of these towers, some of which hardly look bulkier than a lowly elevator shaft. Granted, acquiring enough land in ultra-pricey real estate markets like New York City or Hong Kong can be quite daunting, but aesthetically, the more dramatic slenderness ratios can make some of these tall toothpicks look rather out-of-place with their surroundings. From a distance, some of these slender towers look like pins poking out of an enormous urban pincushion.
Another discouraging aspect is how many of them are being built simply to house ultra-wealthy residents – with in some cases just a single dwelling unit per floor! Several of them are situated along and close to Billionaire’s Row in Midtown Manhattan. So, if residents of these towers are going to spend so much money on a sky-high dwelling, why wouldn’t they want a more appealing design like the stunningly beautiful 9 DeKalb Avenue in downtown Brooklyn (see below), rather than the bland exterior appearance depicted by some of the other towers listed below.
Below are images of and details on existing, under construction, and proposed toothpick towers that have the highest slenderness ratios dotting the map:
- 111West 57th Street (Steinway Tower): New York City, NY (2021) = 1,428 feet in height with a slenderness ratio of 24:1
2. – tie Highcliff: Hong Kong, China (2003): = 828 feet with a slenderness ratio of 20:1 – the curving intersecting segments of Highcliff help visually conceal its slender design.
- 262 Fifth Avenue: New York City, NY (proposed) = 1,001 feet in height with a proposed slenderness ratio of 20:1
4. Magic Tower: Melbourne, Australia (proposed) = 1,082 feet in height with a proposed slenderness ratio of 18.33:1
5.- tie 220 Central Park South: New York City, NY (2019) = 953 feet in height with a slenderness ratio of 18:1 – this is one where I like the architectural elements.
- 1200 Bay Street: Toronto, ON (proposed) = 1,063 feet in height with a proposed slenderness ratio of 18:1
7. Collins House: Melbourne, Australia (2019) = 669 feet in height with a slenderness ratio of 16.25:1
8. 100 East 53rd Street: New York City, NY (2017) = 711 feet in height with a slenderness ratio of 16:1
9.- tie 432 Park Avenue: New York City, NY (2015) = 1,396 feet in height with a slenderness ratio of 15:1
- 520 Park Avenue: New York City, NY (2018) = 781 feet in height with a slenderness ratio of 15:1
11. 125 Greenwich Street: New York City, NY (2020) = 912 feet in height with a slenderness ratio of 14:1
12. Madison Square Park Tower: New York City, NY (2017) = 777 feet in height with a slenderness ratio of 13:1
Too often, ‘function’ appears to have largely usurped ‘form’ in creating many of these tall boxes stood on their narrowest dimension. Few of them remotely compare to the style, grace, and beauty arising from the Chrysler Building, Empire State Building (slenderness ratio of 2.95:1), or One World Trade Center. Where those three (3) evoke a sense of strength and stability, often these new slender skyscrapers look like a hearty sneeze could blow them over.
One has to wonder if “skyscraper envy” could be a factor at play here, too. Regardless, enormous buildings solely housing expensive condominiums, particularly for part-time occupants, doesn’t seem like very good urban planning. This is especially true if your city is trying to maintain/build enough foot traffic on the streets below to sustain retailers and restaurants.
How long the era of the slender skyscraper will last is anybodies guess. So many factors come into play, for real estate costs to zoning laws to consumer demand to even factors like COVID-19. One thing is for sure. Those skyscrapers that are designed and built with curb appeal and stylish architecture, such as 9 DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn should certainly outlast their bland utilitarian counterparts.