Toothpick Towers

Is the NYC skyline losing its style?

By Henry Hittle
Opinions Editor

Having lived near New York City for the entire 20 years of my life, I have watched the skyline change as new, unique skyscrapers are constructed, adding new characteristics to the already unique jagged skyline. Some of them are absolutely beautiful. For example, I believe One World Trade Center is an awe-inspiring sight, and the Bank of America Tower, being the first V4 Platinum LEED-certified building in the nation, is truly a marvel of modern engineering. And of course, I have a lot of respect for the revered NYC buildings built in classic Art Deco style, like the Chrysler Building. However, I take issues with the new “toothpick towers” being erected in the city. These pencil-thin buildings stretching over a thousand feet into the air are an affront to style and class. They look like they could fall over with the slightest gust of wind. Take 432 Park Avenue, one of the first of this class of building to be constructed in the city. It stands at 1,300 feet, towering over central park. It is bland and lifeless, having zero personality or character.

For a city that is so incredibly diverse in so many ways, these kinds of buildings seem entirely out of place. I am certainly not the only one in NYC feeling this way. The Municipal Art Society of New York, a non-profit organization that strives to prevent the death of the city’s unique artistic character, has criticized the city for not allowing proper scrutiny and public voice in skyscraper developments. NYC law says that developers do not require planning permission, public review, or community engagement before constructing these monstrosities. To make matters worse, these buildings solely exist as obscene displays of extravagance and wealth. Most of these new buildings collectively make up the recently nicknamed “billionaires’ row” just south of Central Park and 57th Street. All of these buildings, including 432 Park Ave, One57, and Central Park Tower, are composed of less than two hundred 8-figure apartments and penthouses. These towers are not only projected to be the tallest residential buildings in the world but are now expected to be the most expensive condo projects in existence, with one building selling for over $4 billion.

Now, I’m not “anti-wealth,” but it really bothered me when I learned that many of these apartments won’t even be inhabited, instead existing as an asset for billionaires and investment firms, without anyone ever stepping foot in them. Talk about a waste of space. Aside from poor taste and ludicrous amounts of “screw you money,” the way these buildings are constructed is concerning, especially as we as a society become more aware of wastefulness and poor allocation of resources. To build these buildings, developers must first exploit a loophole in NYC law that limits how much “air” a structure can take up above a plot of land. To obtain a height beyond what is allowed, developers have strategically positioned these towers adjacent to buildings that are not very tall, such that they can purchase the “air rights” allocated to these buildings to build as high as they desire. You may be thinking, “isn’t it better to be building tall without taking up much space?” In some ways, yes. However, these buildings have no advantage over traditional skyscrapers because, to avoid being toppled over by the slightest wind, they must have several floors of unused, open-air space to allow wind to flow through unobstructed. The materials required to construct these useless spaces, as well as the environmental impact of sourcing said materials, outweigh the benefits of the slender-but-tall model. Hopefully, this tasteless trend will not be enduring.

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