Change in a New York Minute

Rendering of updated NYC skyline. Credit: Beyer Blinder Belle Architects.

So there's been some fuss recently over proposed new additions to the New York City skyline. A developer has set his sights on 15 Penn Plaza, which has upset the owners of the Empire State Building. One of them, Anthony Malkin, is particularly upset by the plans:

"Would a tower be allowed next to The Eiffel Tower or Big Ben’s clock tower? Just as the world will never tolerate a drilling rig next to The Statue of Liberty, why should governmental bonuses and waivers be granted to allow a structure as tall and bulky at 15 Penn Plaza to be built 900 feet away from New York City’s iconic Landmark and beacon?"

He has also said that the proposed building will "ruin" the skyline and it will be a "black eye."


But the bruised pride is understandable. The Empire State Building was the tallest in the world when it was completed in 1931 standing at 1250 ft. It held that honor for about 30 years until the Ostankino Tower in Moscow (1770 ft) was completed. Then it had to make do with being the tallest building in the United States until 1972 when the World Trade Towers (One and Two, at 1368 ft and 1362 ft respectively) were completed. Two years later when the Sears Tower (now Willis Tower) was built (1451 ft), the Empire State Building was bumped again down to the number four spot. The terrible attacks on September 11th moved the building back into third place behind the Willis Tower and Trump International—both of which are in Chicago. Ouch.

This interloper would come in under less than 60 feet or so of the Empire State Building's height.  In the image above, you can see that the Empire State Building sort of gets pushed into the background from this perspective. So the owners of the Empire State building launched a PR campaign and tried to get a 17-block moratorium of building in the area. It strikes me as just a bit humorous though that there's so much controversy over this when we regularly raze historical sites and pave over them all in the name of progress. (Though I admit that I didn't always feel this way.) The new building at 15 Penn will supposedly add much needed modern office and residential space to the city.

Despite the protests, the plan has been approved. Mayor Bloomberg seemed rather irritated in his response (but perhaps rightly so in my opinion):

“Anybody that builds a building in New York City changes its skyline.” Bloomberg said at a news conference. “We don’t have to run around to every other owner and apologize. One guy owns a building, and he’d like to have it be the only tall building. I’m sorry that’s not the real world.”

The building will not likely go up for a few years, but it will be an interesting thing to watch unfold.

5 responses so far

  • Pascale says:

    Maybe it's a Muslim skyscraper... then they can probably get its construction blocked.

  • physioprof says:

    I agree 100% with Bloomberg. The economic development of Philadelphia was stagnated for decades because of the dumbass zoning law that no building could be taller than William Penn's hat on the top of City Hall. As soon as they eliminated that rule, beautiful big skyscrapers were built, and an economic renaissance ensued with major benefit to the city and its residents/workers. The owners of ESB seek to maintain their rent premium that they can charge as the "tallest building in NYC". I say, tough shit.

  • physioprof says:

    Oh, and yeah, Pascale's suggestion is fucken brilliant! The owners of ESB should start banging the drum that building taller than the ESB is just like spitting on the graves of the WTC dead.

  • Ken says:

    Skylines do, and should, evolve. While I agree that some sort of ban on nearby new construction or arbitrary limits on height is unreasonable, I would think that the building commission of NYC would attempt to apply visual standards to just what is built, especially when it will impact iconic areas of the city.

    The current design as pictured looks like an uninspired copy of the Empire State Building rendered in a 1980's architectural style. Perhaps the stepped top was meant as an homage, but instead just appears to mock instead.

    The building commission should demand a rethinking of the design with a nod towards something that would enhance and modernize the skyline in the area.

    • kdcosta says:

      One of the articles I link to notes that everyone involved with approving the building agrees that it's no beauty. Unfortunately, in this case, the possibility for business trumps design -- I don't think anyone wants to hold up a project that may add to the economy.

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