Manhattanites are used to tall buildings. Many live in them. But many of those who live in them are finding common cause with the residents of shorter stuff as new megatowers arise. The supertalls make mere tall buildings look like pygmies, while low-rise apartments and townhouses look like ants. That’s just the buildings. Their inhabitants, venturing out onto the sidewalks, must feel like microbes.
The effect of tall buildings on the quality of life in the city’s streets was recognized with the passage of its pathbreaking 1916 zoning law, which mandated setbacks in the massing of tall buildings so that light could get through to the street. Naturally, as the ways around zoning leapfrog each new round of zoning, buildings here have grown taller and taller, blotting out the sun and generating a wind-tunnel effect that buffets the disenfranchised user of the sidewalk environment. The latest rush of developers to out-leap each other into the sky is only making matters worse.
Twenty towers of more than 900 feet are planned or under construction in the city. Fourteen break the 1,000-foot mark. The vicinity of 57th Street is the locus for residential supertalls, with 432 Park Ave., at 1,396 feet, the latest to be completed. It is also considered a super-thin — a designation that kicks in when height is more than 10 times the width: 432 Park boasts a 15-1 height-to-width ratio; 111 West 57th, under construction, will be 23-1. Engineers may shrink from revealing what architects deny, but the combination of super-tall and super-thin looks super-fragile.
And hold on to your hats! Sutton Place, known for its quiet elegance, may be next in line for belittlement. Permits have been issued for developer Bauhouse Group to raze three six-story buildings, 428-432 East 58th St., right around the corner. The British “starchitect” Sir Norman Foster has been hired to design a super-tall with 100-plus residential units reaching as high as 1,000 feet. Renderings depict a narrow, squarish tower of glass panes framed by thin pilasters and spandrels, rising straight up some 90 stories. A smattering of corner and mid-facade inset balconies are festooned by Foster’s imaginative artists with verdure.