Wave of super-tall towers in Manhattan sparks protests over shadows


New Yorkers are speaking out against a rash of super-tall skinny skyscrapers by architects including SHoP and Robert AM Stern, which they say will overshadow Central Park.

Activists marched along 57th Street in midtown Manhattan on 8 November to draw attention to the controversial towers and the shadows they cast over the park – New York's main green space.

The protesters, who carried black umbrellas to symbolise the impact of the shadows, have dubbed their campaign Stand Against the Shadows.

According to the group, the thin towers cast shadows that stretch three-quarters of a mile (1.2 kilometres) into the park. They are darkening popular attractions such as historic carousels, playgrounds, baseball fields and portions of the Central Park Zoo.

"This is a problem that can't be ignored any longer," said campaign spokesperson Valerie Brown in an official statement.

West 57th Street tower by SHoP
SHoP Architects' 441-metre 111 West 57th Street is being built on a plot that is just 13 metres wide

"Developers are under no obligation to seek city or community approval or input, nor carry out any environmental studies, to build to these unprecedented heights," she added. "They only had to buy up the air rights, or in some cases, add empty floors to work around height limits."

Developers buy "air rights" from owners of shorter buildings, which enable the developers to add floors to new towers.

Several super-tall towers – most of which are residential, containing multi-million dollar apartments – are being constructed just south of Central Park on 57th Street, earning it the nickname Billionaire's Row.

Architect Steven Holl took issue with the towers in an Opinion piece for Dezeen, stating that "architecture with a sense of social purpose is becoming increasingly rare" in New York.

432 Park Avenue by Rafael Vinoly
Rafael Viñoly's 432 Park Avenue skyscraper will be completed at the end of this year

A skyscraper by SHoP Architects, called 111 West 57th Street, will rise 1,397 feet (426 metres), while the Nordstrom Tower by Adrian Smith + Gordon Gill will rise 1,550 feet (472 metres). The buildings are expected to open in 2017 and 2019, respectively.

Robert AM Stern's 220 Central Park South will be 950 feet tall (290 metres) and is slated for completion in 2016 or 2017.

One57, designed by Christian de Portzamparc, tops out at 1,004 feet (306 metres) and opened in 2014.

A few blocks from 57th Street, a 1,396-foot (425-metre) tower by Rafael Vinoly, called 432 Park Avenue, is scheduled to be finished this year. And a skyscraper by Jean Nouvel – 53W53 – recently broke ground and will climb to 1,050 feet (320 metres).

The Stand Against the Shadows group is calling for a temporary halt on development of towers higher than 600 feet (183 metres). It wants the city to conduct thorough environmental and infrastructure studies, improve zoning regulations in regards to building heights and setbacks, and solicit public input.

The recent demonstration was described as a "reboot" of a Stand Against the Shadow protest that took place in Manhattan in 1987 in response to the proposed height of the Columbus Circle Towers, which were to rise 58 and 68 storeys.

The earlier protest was led by the Municipal Art Society of New York (MAS), a prominent nonprofit organisation that also supported the recent march. In 2013, MAS issued a reported called the Accidental Skyline, in which it urged city officials to better engage the public in the urban planning process.

53W53 by Jean Nouvel
The 53W53 skyscraper by Jean Nouvel will climb to 1,050 feet

"As in 1987, today's demonstrators aren't against new development or skyscrapers themselves," said Mary Rowe, the organisation's executive vice president. "We are simply calling for the city to plan intentionally for the future, especially near treasured public spaces like Central Park."

The concern over the shadows has been discussed for years, and was examined by architecture critic Paul Goldberger in a 2014 Vanity Fair story. "Given the slenderness of the new towers, it might be more accurate to say that the southern end of the park is someday going to look striped," wrote Goldberger.

In addition to the long shadows, protesters are concerned that housing units within the super-tall skyscrapers will be left empty. "These luxury towers are often purchased as investment properties with no intention of ever being inhabited," said the group in a statement.

The city said it does not intend to halt the development of super-tall towers in midtown Manhattan, according to reports.

"Midtown Manhattan has always been a high-density/high-bulk area given its concentration of mass transit and its role as the city's premier business district," wrote the director of city planning, Carl Weisbrod, in a publicly released letter. "We have no immediate plans to reduce the current as-of-right density or bulk requirements."

  • Trump

    How about you chop down all the trees in Central Park and you will have even less shadow! Get a life, work hard and buy an apartment in one of the slim towers, instead of doing silly protests!

    Seriously, to have luxury, slim apartment towers in the inner city with a minimal footprint is a great development, rather the alternative of creating gated blocks.

    • Work hard and buy an apartment in Manhattan, lol.

    • Meme

      Are you kidding? Every sentence in your comment is ridiculous.

      • Trump

        Dear Meme, I am not kidding. Please read again and understand every sentence is very logical:

        1) If you chop down trees there will be less shadow.
        2) If you work a lot you earn money and can probably buy an apartment.
        3) Building more luxury apartments will result in less need to buy out the existing population in order to move into a flat in central Manhattan.

        It is very simple logic and to protest only because of an illogical personal resintment against high rises or anything called luxury makes the protest silly.

      • “Slim tower” and “minimal footprint” make sense in theory. Real life, no.

      • GWBush

        I don’t think you get it.

        • Meme

          Yes, it’s a joke. I was suspecting it from the start when noticed Trump’s name.

      • babajaga

        His name is Trump, what do you expect?

        • Trump

          I find it a bit discriminating to expect every opinion that differs from your own to be meant ironically. There is no base for a dialogue if you do not accept different point of views.

      • Nomoremaos

        Feel free to move to wash DC, not much of an issue with shadows there. Love how people want to live in a city and complain about noise, shadows, crime, etc.

  • Kay

    Well this is only really a sprint/summer problem really. :)

    Anyone who can afford these things only wants to live in Manhattan and right in the heart of the island with the best views possible. It’s always been the case, hence why the UES and then UWS became so exclusive at one point, especially when Midtown became a hub of crime. Most of the big money buying these apartment won’t even live in them.

    The only solution is to spread out the wealth areas a little so they are not all so close and central. This also probably means gentrification. Harlem, both Spanish and West Harlem, are already being gentrified big time. Brooklyn is the same. Queens not really but getting there.

    he Bronx is still proper working class New York, but there you have big demographic shifts as the Jews and African Americans are being replaced by Hispanics.

    Everyone talks about getting to Manhattan in x minutes from spot y. That won’t change anytime soon.

  • Sam

    I think there is a dash of sarcasm in the above comment; I mean, the name Trump should give that away.

  • James

    These skyscraper designs are a great solution to urban density but they should house all levels of wealth. Unfortunately they won’t. All they will do is ruin an amazing park.

  • Nomoremaos

    Oh, it’s the shadow issue again. Live anywhere in NYC besides a brownstone and you’re always in a shadow. It’s a city, right?!

  • BongCastaneda

    Is this really an issue when the sun is always moving and those shadows will move too. Those trees won’t die nor the grass. The brains of some might explode though.

    • k0n

      Yup, with super-slenders shadows are actually less of an issue than with maybe shorter, but wider buildings, which would keep the area in shadow over a longer stretch of time each day.