The technology that allows developers to build the tall and skinny towers that are coming to dominate New York City’s skyline is not new; what is new, though, is the seemingly ceaseless demand for the trophy spaces housed in these towers. With apartments at the tippy-top of the city’s newest sky-grazing towers beginning to fetch upwards of nine figures, the buildings are coming to represent the polarized economy as well as a new era in building. In charting the rise of the “supertall” tower, The Guardian reflects on skyscraper building practices in New York City throughout time, and how they have determined the sincerity of the skyline. (They, as a British publication, only mildly rub in that planning officials in London negotiate the size and shape of every building with developers.) Here now, the seven best lines from The Guardian’s takedown of egotism in construction.
1) “…And the buildings are not, as in Dubai or Shanghai’s Pudong district, being constructed where nothing else had stood. They are, instead, crowding into already dense neighbourhoods where light and air are at a premium, and quality-of-life issues are on the minds of everyone except, perhaps, the billionaires buying the cloud-hung condos as investment properties.”
2) “In 2013, Warren St John, a writer who lives near Central Park, began campaigning for a moratorium on new skyscrapers immediately south of the park; his concern was that playgrounds and ballfields would increasingly be in shadow. The city’s outgoing mayor Michael Bloomberg, a billionaire, wasn’t about to block construction of condos for his plutocratic peers; more surprisingly, the city’s new mayor, Bill de Blasio, a populist, hasn’t addressed the issue either.”
3) “The setback requirements [of 1916], generally ensuring large reductions in floor area above the 10th storey, and further reductions higher up, led to one of the most distinctive building types of the 20th century: the wedding-cake tower, with the striations required by law inspiring jazz-age architects to greatness.”
4) “But in 1961 the city revised the zoning laws again, making the wedding-cake towers period pieces. Instead, entranced by Mies van der Rohe’s Seagram Building on Park Avenue, a masterpiece of bronze metal set back in a handsome plaza, officials switched to a zoning code that encourages standalone towers … The city was overtaken by banal, sheer towers set in plazas that offered very little to the public and, given the height of the new buildings, were often in shadow.”
5) “The real generator of form now is the winner-take-all economy—and with it, the demand for sky-high condos at sky-high prices.”
6) “…the demand for $20m to $100m condos, with views in all directions and no next-door neighbours, has given rise to a new building type—making the revised skyline the physical manifestation of New York’s income disparities.”
7) “Not only are these new towers casting long shadows on Central Park; they are turning the New York skyline, for most of the 20th century a kind of ziggurat with the Empire State Building as its peak, into a jumble.”