The Future, or Fate, of the Supertall Tower

Supertall tower 432 Park Avenue rendering

2015 was irrefutably the year of the skyscraper — a reported 106 buildings 656 feet or taller went up around the globe last year. Asian cities dominated the market in terms of growth — only Moscow showed up in the top 15 completions by quantity and height, and New York is the only U.S. city to even make the list. While only two skyscrapers were completed here in 2015, the rise and dominance of the supertall tower can be felt throughout the city.

The supertall trend began as residential towers topping 1,000 feet sprouted up along West 57th Street — colloquially known as Billionaire's Row — and soon began cropping up all over Manhattan and even spilling into Brooklyn.

Indeed, architecture critic Carter Hosley has devoted a whole series on 6sqft entitled “Skyline Wars” to the phenomenon. The first installment focused on the structures in and around Billionaire's Row — 432 Park Avenue, One 57, MoMA Tower, et al —  and how proposing and designing these residential towers, along with others citywide, has become a competition for which developer can build the highest, the skinniest, the most awe-inspiring.

In addition, developers in this race are forced to think outside the box to meet demand while navigating city building regulations. Just as utilizing air rights to compensate for lack of available land was an initial factor in the inception of the supertall tower, developers are now finding loopholes in building regulations to build higher. One such loophole is a clever interpretation of a regulation governing the number of square feet devoted to livable space in a developement. Since market demand is overwhelmingly for higher floor residences, developers are beginning to stop building units on the lowest floors at all. To achieve this, they've begun using low levels for mechanical or structural space, which doesn’t cut into the building’s allotted square footage — the result is essentially a supertall tower on stilts. One such example of this is a new tower proposal for East 58th Street at Sutton Place by developer Joseph Beninati. To raise the building to his desired height of a dizzying 1,000 feet, Beninati plans to have 24 feet of mechanical space, which will add an estimated 100-plus feet to the project in total and allowing more of the residences to clear 700 feet and thus offering more seriously dramatic views.

As would be expected, there is much controversy surrounding this new developer loophole.  Civic organizations like the Municipal Arts Society have spoken out against the supertall phenomenon in general, stating they are an overwhelming impediment on the city’s skyline cast dark shadows, and bring little economic growth to a neighborhood.

This latest building augmentation by developers has just added fuel to the fire of a trend that shows no signs of slowing its rise to soaring heights, but whether their popularity will continue to soar with them remains to be seen.