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08.05.2014
Top Heavy
Are flaring residential towers the next trend in skyscrapers?
45 East 22nd Street
Courtesy KPF

New York City’s rising batch of luxury towers do everything they can to attract the global elite. They have it all: the luxury amenities, the location, the big name architects, and, of course, the views. That is to say nothing of the way these glass goliaths allow the world’s wealthiest to invest—or hide—huge piles of cash.

These super-skinny, super-tall, occasionally cantilevering, towers have been planned, designed, and engineered to meet the demand of this unprecedentedly high market. Of course, any unit in one of these buildings will cost you, but the big money—or rather, the really, really big money—is all the way up top where penthouse prices are now hovering around $100 million. It was only a matter of time, then, that the design and massing of these narrow, glossy towers would explicitly reflect their top-heavy potential.

This appears to be the case with two new Kohn Pedersen Fox (KPF) condo buildings rising a few miles south of Midtown. The firm’s 950-foot-tall tower in Tribeca and its 777-foot-tall tower in Gramercy, both rise from a narrow base and then flare out near the top, as first noted by real estate blog NY YIMBY. The effect is more dramatic on the Tribeca tower, which has been described as a champagne flute. The supposed goal with these towers is to create the biggest apartments where they will be most valuable.

45 East 22nd Street (left). 101 Tribeca. Both towers expand at the upper floors, creating larger penthouses (right).
 

Paul Katz, a principal at KPF, says the design of 45 East 22nd Street—specifically its tapering edge—serves two purposes: it softens a significant cantilever and also helps accommodate a high-end market, which places a premium on living high-up. The building’s lower floors accommodate two units—studios and one-bedrooms that are roughly 1,000 square feet each. Some 50 floors up, as the building expands, there are full-floor and duplex units more than three times that size. The size of units at 101 Tribeca was not immediately made available.

But Katz is careful not to overstate the impact of either of these designs, saying that, on their own, they are not necessarily revolutionary. “It is a really interesting phenomenon that is part of a larger trend,” he said, referring to the ultra high-end market. To him, this type of work is about more than creating bigger floor plates, it is about adding interior variety from top to bottom. “You don’t feel like you are living in a building where every floor is the same,” he said.

Carol Willis, the director of the Skyscraper Museum, is not convinced these two towers represent a larger trend in the luxury market. To her, increasing the size of a condo by a few hundred feet is not the driving force behind this type of development.

“What [wealthy individuals] are really buying is the height and views,” she said. “The size of a floor plate does not really matter that much. To me, it is a formal move, not a business move.”

It is hard to pin down the primary motive behind the shape of each building as the project’s developers did not respond to AN’s request for comment. But KPF’s towers are only the latest addition to high-rise, high-end living in New York City so if this type of design does allow developers to squeeze every possible penny out of a condo then more flaring towers will certainly follow.

Henry Melcher