Steinway Tower opens as world’s skinniest skyscraper [A Byte Out of the Big Apple]

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Waiting for the elevator doors to close behind me, I stabilized myself to work in a new office. For most of my career, I’ve worked in quieter artistic neighborhoods in New York. Now I made my way among tourists and businessmen wearing ties and Italian leather shoes. I was clearly in Midtown Manhattan.

I heard shuffling and held the elevator door open – and one of my closest friends, who I’ve known since freshman year, walked in.

“What are you doing here?” she asked as we screamed and hugged. When I explained that my office rented two of the floors of the building, she pointed out that she knew whoever was in the elevator couldn’t have been someone who was already working there because no one was holding the door open. Such was the culture of Midtown, where busy executives folded their slices of pizza in half to eat as they headed to their next meeting.

Over the next few years, my friend and I spent countless lunch breaks wandering Fifth Avenue and Central Park. One day she pointed to a building.

Rising skyward loomed a building so tall and lean it disrupted the skyline – the Steinway Tower.

How does architecture reflect status?

New York in the 1970s was perhaps characterized by brutalism: an ode to concrete. The city was plagued by economic struggles that even led to the removal of sanitation. Brutalist architecture was practical architecture that served the common man.

On the other hand, Hong Kong is being built as a financial capital, which is reflected in its architecture. Suddenly, super skinny skyscrapers began to spring up along its horizon.

In crowded cities, where property is counted in square feet instead of acres, slender buildings represent prosperity. Fewer units available obviously leads to greater exclusivity. And while some might think these slender buildings might retreat behind other architectural gems, they stand out, demanding attention, because they are so unique.

Slender architecture further implies architectural prowess and innovation. After all, it takes high-quality engineering and materials to make a thin building strong.

Such heights

The recently inaugurated Steinway Tower is heralded as the thinnest tower in the world. The building is 1,428 feet tall, making it the second tallest residential building in the Western Hemisphere. But it’s only 60 feet wide. This means it has an aspect ratio of just 24:1.

Although from the outside it may appear remarkably fragile with its glass curtain walls, the tower is reinforced with what is considered the strongest concrete in the world. It’s 14,000 psi. It also has over 5.5 million feet of rebar.

Structural engineering was provided by WSP, a professional services firm with New York roots dating back to 1885. The firm was also involved in the 34e Street Station – Subway number 7, 7 World Trade Center, two buildings at Hudson Yards, and the super slim 53w53 building, New York (formerly known as MoMA Tower), among others.

But just how strong is a building as tall and slender as this? inside science answered the question: John Ochsendorf, who is a structural engineer from MIT who was not involved in this particular project, revealed that tall buildings will, of course, sway. They’re just designed in such a way that anyone inside doesn’t actually feel it. Meanwhile, Adrian Brügger, who heads Columbia University’s Robert AW Carleton Strength of Material Laboratory, reassured that even a common office building moves but workers tend not to notice.

To reduce vibrations in the Steinway tower, there is an 800 ton tuned mass damper. However, How Stuff Works reports that because it can swing up to three feet, some people have experienced nausea.

It all started with a piano

The tower is an extension of Steinway Hall, an iconic building built as a recital hall and store for piano maker Steinway & Sons. In 1864, the society had opened a room at 109 East 14e Street, a street in downtown New York formerly known as Piano Row.

But after Andrew Carnegie’s eponymous Carnegie Hall opened in 1891, becoming a mecca for musicians, the company knew it was time to step up a gear to chase those piano sales. Steinway Hall, designed by architects Warren and Westmore, opened on what is now known as Billionaire’s Row in 1925.

Ninety years later, in 2015, construction of the Tower began. The architects behind the project were SHoP Architects, who fast business named one of the 10 most innovative architectural firms. They are, after all, the company behind the Barclays Center in Brooklyn and the expansion of Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley. They were also asked to develop New York’s South Street Seaport and redesign the Domino Sugar Factory, underscoring their ability to honor the past while innovating for the future.

The tower, developed by JDS Development Group and Property Markets Group, is located at 111 West 57e Street. Just two blocks south of Central Park, the residential building is within walking distance of iconic New York City institutions such as The Plaza, The Russian Tea Room, Tiffany & Co., and the Ed Sullivan Theater. The Steinway Tower is significantly taller than its neighboring buildings and can be seen rising above the tree line from the southern part of Central Park.

The Golden Age of Architecture

Steinway Tower was designed to invoke the pre-war golden age in which Steinway Hall – which was restored in partnership with New York’s Landmarks Preservation Commission – was built.

At first glance or from a distance, the pencil tower may seem a little garish. The Guardian even derided him as “the cafe stirrer”. But on closer inspection, it actually has an inspired exterior design.

The Steinway Tower features a tapered-step design that offers a contemporary take on New York’s Art Deco past. The stepped aesthetic is found in the Chrysler Building, opened in 1930; the Empire State Building, inaugurated in 1931; and 30 Rock, opened in 1933 – architectural gems that define New York City.

On the elevations of the building there are approximately 43,000 terracotta pilasters. They have a somewhat fluted design which is also reminiscent of the Art Deco era. But even the material itself was popular during the golden age of architecture when it enjoyed a resurgence thanks to colored glazes. Although terracotta literally means “scorched earth,” the glaze makes Steinway Tower appear to shimmer in different colors from sunrise to sunset.

Want a room?

Steinway Tower added 46 residential units to the concert hall, which was converted to 14 residential units. An introvert’s dream, each floor contains only one residence.

And it’s hard to beat the views: Not only does it offer a bird’s-eye view of Manhattan, but its location provides a symmetrical view of Central Park and the neighborhoods that border it.

That said, a condo in Steinway will cost you between $7.75 million and $66 million. A walk in Central Park is free.

Take another byte from the big apple

Image Credit: STUDIO BONOBO /

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