It’s very common to see people in New York City walking with their heads up, especially if you stroll along the so-called Billionaire’s Row. However, it’s not snobbery on the part of the residents of the super-luxury buildings constructed in those five blocks on 57th Street, south of Central Park, between 8th and Park Avenue. Looking up is an instinctive gesture, fueled by a sense of disbelief mixed with admiration for architects and engineers who have conceived slender skyscrapers that soar towards the sky, almost defying gravity, rising up in extremely narrow spaces and catering to deep pockets.
As a testament to a city that never sleeps, construction of new towers continues in this stretch of Midtown, despite the lack of available space. Right here, just last year, the Steinway Tower was completed, the world’s thinnest skyscraper, reaching a height of 1,428 feet (435 meters) and boasting a ratio of 24:1 with its width at the base. This ratio is considered impossible when considering that – although there are no official definitions – a skyscraper is deemed super slim if it is at least 10 times taller than its width at the narrowest point.
The record-breaking Steinway Tower
The record held by the Steinway Tower is not only a matter of slimness but also of the surprising and innovative structural technique employed. The tower was constructed while preserving the 16-story building that was built nearly a hundred years earlier in 1925, known as Steinway Hall, the home of the renowned and lavish Steinway & Sons piano store. The new tower at 111 West 57th Street emerges from those 16 floors, and for months, New Yorkers witnessed the gradual ascent of an immense crane to build the 84-story building, consisting of residences ranging in price from 7 to 66 million dollars, all sold despite the slowdown in the real estate market due to the COVID pandemic.
According to the information previously disclosed to the press, Steinway Hall, considered a New York landmark, was reinforced with a steel structural frame on top of a reinforced concrete base and steel grates, while the tower’s foundations contain approximately 200 anchors that extend down to 100 feet (30 meters) into the underlying bedrock, ensuring the necessary stability for the extreme slenderness of the tower, which, like all towers, sways at the top due to wind action. A tower like Steinway can move up to three feet (0.9 meters) at the upper levels, according to various studies presented by the media at the tower’s debut. These are not displacements that compromise safety, primarily because – as required by the city’s building regulations – systems and devices must be installed to dampen and contain them within precise limits, including in terms of acoustic perception. There may be possible moments of nausea or apprehension for new occupants until they get used to it.
From Hong Kong to New York City, the era of pencil towers
Steinway is the world’s tallest pencil tower, but the introduction of this type of construction was developed in the 1970s in Hong Kong, with residential buildings of twenty or more floors, featuring only one apartment per floor, built on extremely narrow lots due to space constraints. In a short time, Hong Kong became the city with the highest concentration of slim skyscrapers, reaching the Highcliff Tower with 72 floors, which has a slimness ratio of 20:1. This technique was imported to the United States in the 2010s when pencil towers became a new phenomenon in luxury construction.
The first of these pencil towers in Manhattan, built right in the Billionaire’s Row, was the One57 tower, standing 1,004 feet (306 meters) tall with 74 floors, completed in 2014. It was followed by the 432 Park Avenue, soaring 1,397 feet (425 meters) high with 96 floors, immediately making that section of Midtown the most expensive real estate market in the world, with 41 transactions above 25 million dollars from 2015 to 2019. According to a February 2018 article in The Wall Street Journal, the two-story penthouse in One57 was purchased by Michael Dell, founder and CEO of the electronics giant Dell, for a record-breaking price of 100.4 million dollars, the highest ever paid for a real estate transaction in New York.
Slim skyscrapers: the symbol of New York luxury
The demand for luxury residences remains high in that stretch of street, and although it is not designed as a slender skyscraper, the project for which construction began this year involves building a 386-foot (118-meter) tall building with 28 extra-luxurious floors. The building at 126 East 57th Street will have a copper and glass entrance and a design described as “fractal” or “pixelated” by its architects, featuring a repetition of geometric shapes, mostly cubes, with staggered terraces to allow for the inclusion of plants on each floor.
Living at high altitudes and in opulence is not solely confined to 57th Street. Another super slim skyscraper has just been inaugurated, rising like a towering beacon on the East River shoreline. It is the Sutton Tower, an elegant square-based super slim building standing 850 feet (259 meters) tall with 65 floors, clad in two-inch thick limestone as a tribute to the area’s Art Deco past, known as Little London. The new tower boasts 121 residences ranging from one-bedroom apartments to entire floor five-bedroom apartments, with prices ranging from 2.5 million to 19 million dollars.