While most of the supertall building boom spotlight has been placed China and the UAE over the past few months, there's an even more staggering development happening in the US. At least four 300m+ skyscrapers are set to rise along (or adjacent to) West 57th St over the next few years, each of the tall enough to change the city's skyline forever.
There's a residential boom happening in Midtown Manhattan right now, mainly thanks to wealthy investors who believe that apartments in Midtown Manhattan are about as stable an investment as one can make right now. The Wall Street Journal declares it "a new era for skyscrapers", while The Observer's Matt Chaban wonders "just how many skinny luxury towers can we jam onto 57th Street?"
But what's most remarkable about this boom? Its geography. At least six major building projects are being proposed along one street — West 57th — over the next few years. Three of those (along with one on West 56th St) will compete for the title of the city's tallest building, based on habitable height (rather than spire height, for which One World Trade takes the cake), and one will be the tallest residential tower in the Western Hemisphere. Along this short strip of city, a construction race is being kindled by investors eager to nab a slice of the most valuable real estate in America — and it's driving some fairly insane pieces of architecture too.
The most modest of these projects is One57, a 306m tall apartment building that's currently nearing completion (seen below). This was the project that, arguably, led to the clustering of new projects along the same street. Why? Because it made news for the speed at which its luxury apartments sold — at a time when property values were wavering, no less — and set a record for the highest price paid for a residence in New York city: $US90 million.
Then there's 432 Park, a 426m tall apartment building designed by infamous "death-ray architect" Rafael Vinoly. Located a block south of West 57th on the former site of the 80-year-old Drake Hotel, which was demolished to make room for the tower, it's currently climbing quickly with a projected completion date of mid-2014. Each of the building's windows measures 10sqm of glass, and amenities will include such necessities as a "golf training facility". It will soon eclipse One57 as the tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere:
In late August, Nordstrom shelled out more than $US100 million to anchor the forthcoming 472m tall apartment tower at 225 West 57th St, which will be designed by the architects of the now-legendary Burj Khalifa, Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill Architecture (who were part of SOM at the time). The plan is still pending approval from the city, so we only have a vague idea of what it will look like. But if it's given the green light, it will eclipse Chicago's Willis Tower as the tallest residential building in the US.
The most recent entrant in New York's supertall sweepstakes comes from SHoP Architects and JDS Development Group, which announced a plan to build a 411m skyscraper at 107 West 57th earlier this month. Though it will only be the second tallest building in the city (and the fourth in the country), it distinguishes itself in another way. It's only 12m wide:
While for a townhouse that might not be all that remarkable, it's unheard of for a supertall skyscraper. The reason most supertalls have wider bases is to support the lateral force of wind and seismic movement on its upper floors. Though SHoP was unable to comment on the structural design of the tower when we contacted them, it's bound to be pretty unique. And because each floor is only 12m across, each unit will take up an entire level of the building. In other words, it'll be an entire skyscraper of luxury penthouses. Even for other residential towers built in the city over the past decade, that's an unusual risk. But given the demand for apartments priced well into the tens of millions, it's not surprising.
Will there be a bust to follow this boom? It seems likely. The Skyscraper Index, a controversial theory that posits a correlation between skyscraper construction and economic busts, tells us that intense competition to build ever-taller buildings is usually caused by an unsustainable bubble. According to the Index, as interest rates drop companies expand — and they build larger offices because it's suddenly less expensive to do so.
But what's unique about the boom on and around West 57th St is that these buildings are largely residential — these aren't office spaces, which is what the Index traditionally focuses on. It's being driven by billionaires who want to invest in residential property. So only time will tell whether this astronomical bubble will burst like so many before it, or whether Manhattan will continue along its journey to becoming the rarified domain of the super-rich.