What do you think of 'The World's Skinniest Skyscraper' (111 West 57th Street, New York)?

Thank you for the question!

111 West 57th Street in New York, also known as the World's Skinniest Skyscraper, is one of new trends in building skyscrapers. It follows the logic: high-rise buildings get taller and more slender.

Slenderness is measured by height divided by width. Nowadays design of these buildings, pushes the ratio to previously impossible levels. Slender skyscrapers are usually those with a ratio maximum of 1:10 or 1:12, but anything that has the ratio bigger than 1:7 will be considered as the slender skyscraper.

Slenderness is measured by height divided by width.[1]

In the meantime, more and more buildings are having even bigger ratio. In 2003, for example, Highcliff , with the ratio 1:20, 72 floors and a height of 252 m (827 ft), has already been built in Honk Kong.

Highcliff in Honk Kong (2003), Source: Highcliff - The Tallest Residential Skyscraper in Hong Kong

Besides Honk Kong, New York is known as the capital of so-called pencil-shaped or pencil-thin skyscrapers. Nowadays the most noticeable additions to the skyline include the row of super-tall towers with the height over 300 m (984 feet) – along and around 57th Street, which has become known as Billionaire's Row.

The area along and around 57th Street, which has become known as Billionaire's Row. Source: SKY HIGH & the logic of luxury WALKTHROUGH

The World's Skinniest Skyscraper, in New York is being built on the 18 m-wide base (60 ft-wide base) and with the height of 438 m (1,438 ft). So, the tower’s width-to-height ratio is 1:24 and that will make this tower the tinniest tower, which has ever existed so far.

111 West 57th Street in New York, Source: 111 West 57th Street, New York City

By the time it gets completed it will be also:

  • the 3rd tallest building in New York

The tallest buildings in New York. Source: New York City Skyscraper Diagram

  • the 4th tallest building in the USA

The tallest buildings in the USA. Source: United States Skyscraper Diagram

This building, as other slender skyscrapers, is nowadays considered to be “quintessentially New York” where, besides Chicago, the evolution of building tall buildings started at the beginning of Modernism, in the late XIX and at the beginning of XX century. “The design aims to bring back the quality, materiality and proportions of historic NYC towers” according to Carol Willis, architectural historian and founder of the Skyscraper Museum. The city has not seen such an epochal shift on the skyline since the postwar boom, when most buildings were monolithic structures with big floor plates needed in order to satisfy all functions of office buildings. Before that, there was the epoch of the famous Jazz Age of skyscrapers.[2]

New York skyline over years: at the beginning, after Jazz Age and after post war boom with monolithic skyscraper. Source: The New York Skyline Over the Years | 6sqft

Dana Getman, associate principal at SHoP Architects, the lead designer, argues that far from being a new typology for New York, super-slender is just a return to its classic era of skyscrapers:

“That’s what’s interesting about this new generation of towers,” she says. “Pre-war, before air-conditioning, buildings tended to be thinner to get people closer to light and air. In these new buildings, because they’re residential, light and air again becomes an issue and we have an opportunity to look back to historic buildings and what makes those so special.”[3]

The next photo depicts the comparison between Chrysler building (1930, height: 319 m), Metlife (1963, height: 318.9 m) and 111 West 57th in New York (2019, height: 438m) in terms of their dimensions and proportions and why slender skyscrapers are considered to be some sort of the revival of previous trends existing at the beginning of XX century. It’s obvious from the comparison of the base dimensions that contemporary slender skyscrapers actually evoke the buildings from the earlier epochs of skyscrapers’ history in New York, besides their main characteristic: slenderness and height.

Source: REVEALED: New Rendering for 111 West 57th Street Shows Ethereal Views | 6sqft

What is interesting about 111 West 57th Street in New York is that at its base it fits with a courtyard wrapped by the existing landmark Steinway Building designed by Warren and Westmore and completed in 1925. This Art Deco landmark is taken into account when it comes to the design of the new building, so while the building’s super-slender form may look startlingly new, it is itself also a heritage project.

The bulk of the new tower massing is set back from the street to maintain visibility to the three primary sides of the Steinway Building's front tower. The new design will strategically intersect with the historic building to maintain the character and independence of the landmark. This includes preserving the ornate interior Rotunda space, Steinway's main showroom, while providing a new opening along the eastern facade for increasing accessibility and visibility into the space. A dedicated Steinway recital hall will also be included in the historic building to maintain Steinway's presence both in the building and neighborhood. [4]

A rendering of the completed building. Source: Two Towers In New York City Are Battling To Be The 'Tallest Apartment Building' In The World

So, the whole project was done with the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The tower is relocated further back on the site. It’s really set back, so people don’t really perceive it from the street. A very open atrium that frees the landmark building to be read in its historic context is created instead. “This lower section of the scheme will offer shared recreation spaces, a lobby and high-end retail”, says Dana Getman, associate principal at SHoP Architects.

Rendered Steinway Building and the position of the new skyscraper. Source: 111 West 57th Street | JDS Development Group

On the contrary, to the rich history of office buildings, built in New York, 111 West 57th Street is meant to be a residential building. It will offer apartments at one of the best locations in New York, in the heart of midtown Manhattan, with the stunning view on Central Park. Basically, that’s what the global super rich are willing to pay for, as it has always been during history.

Photo source: 111 WEST 57TH STREET, SHoP Architects

In October of 2018 the first announcements about the price of the apartments is announced. Seven are on the market, most of those are three-bedroom units, with the cheapest going from $18 million to the most expensive, to $56 million.

Announced prices, their comparison with other similar buildings in the area and other information, such as precise location, pricing comparison of similar buildings, building amenities, neighborhood info, availability of public transport, schools (private/public) and other information are available on this link: 111 West 57th Street, NYC - Condo Apartments.

Rendered apartment. Author: HayesDavidson Source: First listings, floorplans for 111 West 57th Street finally appear

What should make these apartments attractive, besides their interior design and organization with the availability of an elevator for every apartment and the good location, is good insulation and the natural ventilation. That isn’t usually available in any monolithic high-raised structure intended for housing because there are too many apartments on one floor. In this building apartments are facing at least three sides out of four. It’s obvious from publicly available plans that apartments are divided in two main areas: a living and sleeping area. The building follows the main principle: the more east- and west-facing glass will tend to cause overheating problems. So, there isn’t much glass facades facing east and west. Though, the orientation of apartments’ living and sleeping area areas based on sources I’ve previously researched, it’s not possible to fully comprehend.

When it comes to the buildings height, there are companies and engineers who are able to solve all sorts of problems of building slender skyscrapers while following this trend in retail market as well as anything connected with engineering challenges. At the same time they are taking advantage of the latest technologies to push the limits of engineering and fabrication and this is just one of buildings as the proof of that.

The land in New York, especially on this location is quite expensive, so if people decide to build something, they’ll built higher as possible to get the most out of the land, as Hezi Mena, the Vise President of WSP group, one of companies employed on this project, stated.

As it’s case with many other locations in this area, the particular piece of the ground where this building will be erected, allows the height as the only direction where it was possible to built. Additionally, enabled by lenient zoning codes, has left residents, politicians and developers themselves scrambling to adapt the city’s changing profile.

Namely, since 1961 New York had zoning law that really constrained the amount of the building that could have been put at any lot, but there’s the feature of the law that allows for the transfer of the air rights that can be piled up on top of the another tower putting together that creates an envelope that allows this new spectacular set of buildings, the super slender ultra luxury towers, is said by Carol Willis, architectural historian and founder of the Skyscraper Museum.[5]

Basically, so called “air rights” look like this:

Air rights and zoning in New York.[6]

Despite many zoning legislation, different probably for every area in New York, air rights allow that the building goes in the height and in this way, those who buy these apartments and those who invest the money in the construction get the benefit: as many square meters of used space as it’s possible.

This isn’t, of course, welcomed always by everyone. Casting shadows on Central Park and darkening the streets and sidewalks below addressed as a problem by many New Yorkers and civic organisations. Basically, many see that as the distortion of half-century-old zoning codes that did not anticipate the ability to build so high.

The skyline of planed or built slender skyscrapers near 57th street and Central Park. Source: As a New High Society Climbs in Manhattan, It’s a Race to the Top

By buying neighbors’ air rights and building up rather than out, developers have created what the society has called the Accidental Skyline and this topic is often present in different articles, presented by The New York Times and many other media. It also inspired many citizens to organize themselves in civic societies which try to defend their right on the light in public spaces and advocate implementation of zoning laws. That’s how the skyline of New York on such an important location wouldn’t ruin enjoining one of the most important public spaces: Central Park.

Of course, depending on who is asked, the one might say that the whole story is overblown. Especially, those in power, decision-makers and those who are paying the luxury.

On the other hand, this building like many others has a chance of having the big “distance between skyscraper’s highest occupiable floor and its architectural top” like it was already published in the article The Buildings in Numbers - Vanity Height: the Empty Space in Today’s Tallest by The Council on Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat (CTBUH). Considering the fact that it’s announced that a building will have 82 floors and 58 units, that means that around 30% of the space might end up unoccupied like it’s the case with many other buildings, which have the similar height.

The history of Vanity Height in 2013.[7]

For example, according to their research only “New York contained two of the tallest 10 Vanity Heights - and it is set to gain a third with the completion of One World Trade Center in 2014” and in the near future the city will get more new buildings.

Real estate market and trends:

According to Find Real Estate, Homes for Sale, Apartments & Houses for Rent -®, in August 2018 the housing market in Manhattan, NY is a buyer's market, which means there are roughly more active homes for sale than there are buyers. Buyer's markets are generally more advantageous for buyers rather than sellers.

The median list price of homes in Manhattan, NY was $1.5M in August 2018, trending down -3% year-over-year. The median listing price per square foot was $1.6K. The median sale price was $912.9K.

On average, homes in Manhattan, NY sell after 80 days on the market. The trend for median days on market in Manhattan, NY is flat since last month, and flat since last year.[8]

However, since there’s only 7 apartments offered on the market in October 2018, we’ll see how the sale is going to pass. I guess, it’s never a problem to sell the most luxurious apartments, just like cars, not even in the less prosperous countries and the location always plays a big role in it.


[1] Engineering Super Slender Towers


[3] 111 West 57th Street: Structural Gymnastics & Art Deco

[4] SKY HIGH & the logic of luxury WALKTHROUGH

[5] Engineering Super Slender Towers

[6] Engineering Super Slender Towers


[8] Manhattan, NY Housing Market & Market Trends -®

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