Manhattan Towers

by John Delach

Due to circumstances beyond my control, today’s blog was delayed until this late hour. I will relate this experience in my next Blog: “Dog in Room.”

From 1934 until 1973 when the South and North Towers of the World Trade Center were completed with heights of 1,355 feet and 1,348 respectively, the world’s three tallest skyscrapers were the Empire State Building (1,250), the Chrysler Building (1,046) and the RCA Building a.k.a. the GE Building and 30 Rockefeller Center (950.)

 Manhattan was historically the skyscraper capital of the world beginning with the completion of the Woolworth Building (792) in 1910. Completion of the Twin Towers returned the record back to downtown, but Manhattan’s dominance ended less than a year later when Chicago wrestled the title away with the 1974 completion of the Sears Tower a.k.a. Willis Tower (1,450). The title never returned to the Big Apple while the Second City and America’s run ended when the Petronas Towers (each 1,483) opened in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1998.

The attacks on the World Trade Center and the destruction of the Twin Towers and surrounding buildings on September 11, 2001 delivered a profound blow to the psyche of metropolitan New Yorkers. Critics questioned whether people would ever again be willing to work, live or play that high in the sky. While the debate over the idea of replacing those buildings went on, both Asia and the Middle East, after taking a deep breath, decided to press on building new structures to unprecedented heights.

Taipei, Taiwan secured the title in 2004 with Taipei 101 at 1,667 feet only to be blown away by Dubai, UAE in 2010. The Burj Khalifa rose to an amazing 2,717 feet in height. More than one thousand feet higher than Taipei 101, the Khalifa Tower, as it is usually called, holds almost every superlative building record ever invented. A multi-use tower the Armani Hotel occupies floors 1 to 8 with the hotel’s resident apartments on 9 to 16, condominium residences from 19 to 37 while Armani suites fill 38 and 39. 

Additional residential apartments are located from 42 to 72 and 77 to 108. The so-called “At.mosphere” restaurant rests on 122 and the so-called “At the Top Observatory” on 124. Corporate Suites look down on these teeming mases from lofty pieds-a-terre on 125 to 135 and 138 to 147. “The New Deck Observatory” sits on 148.

The six top occupied stories, 149 to 154 are devoted to the so called, “One-Percenters,” perhaps in this instance, the top half of this elite group? These chosen few command a view so vast that on a clear day with a pair of Swarovski EL 10X42 binoculars ($3,299.00) they may be able to spot a highjacked airliner 25-miles out giving them the ample opportunity to say a short prayer.

The Khalifa Tower has rendered all other edifice complexes to shame so far. Closest to date, the Shanghai Tower in 2015, (2,073.) The Abraj Al-Bait Clock Tower, (1,971) in Mecca in 2012 and The Ping An Finance Center, (1.965) in Shenzhen, China in 2017.

(A 3,300-tall tower was proposed for the UEA in 2016 but to date, with no sponsors.)

While the world moved forward, New York City remained trapped in our post- 9/11 trauma. It seemed for a time, Manhattan would not recover. The cost of locating, securing and arming One World Trade Center, a.k.a. The Freedom Tower exploded making it untenable. Any other commercial building would have been cancelled but New York proud said otherwise. The Port Authority of NY and NJ stepped in by increasing tolls on the George Washington Bridge and the Lincoln and Holland Tunnels to pay for it. One WTC (1,776) opened in 2014 while the tolls for the Lincoln Tunnel rose from $8.00 in 2001 to $15.00 in 2019 to pay for it.

With One WTC under construction, the shackles binding developers, builders, architects and engineers were released and new era of innovation and building is changing the Manhattan skyline once again. The Empire State Building has already dropped to third place and the Chrysler Building to eighth place and 30 Rock doesn’t make the top 10. When One Vanderbilt, under construction, occupying the entire square block; Madison to Vanderbilt, Forty-second to Forty-Third will grab second tallest at 1,401 feet when it opens.

Sadly, not all these towers deserve recognition. A combination of new technology a fluke in zoning laws, the need of mega-wealthy Russian, Chicom, Turkish, Greek, South American etc. to park some of their wealth in Manhattan towers has led to the creation of pencil skyscrapers that alter the landscape. These blights on the Manhattan Skyline include 432 Park Avenue (1.397) completed in 2015, but the worst is yet to come. Two pencil towers are piercing the skyline, both due for completion next year: 111 West 57 Street (1,428) and Central Park Tower (1,550.)

These freaks plus other more legitimate new buildings will push both the Empire State and the Chrysler out of the top ten. So far, no developer has had the chutzpah to propose a pencil tower to exceed the height of Number One WTC and recent reviews of the engineering behind the heights of these pencils may curtail future construction. I sincerely hope so. Meanwhile, perhaps I can interest these esteemed owners the same binoculars recommended for those high up on the Khalifa Tower?

My hero in this piece is Manhattan. Once again, Manhattan renews itself and unabashedly moves forward into the future. In the words of the late, John Lindsay: “It’s the fastest track in the world.”