Aerial view of the Empire State Building.

The Skyscraper Museum, a favorite among architectural enthusiasts, recently reopened on July 15 after hosting virtual exhibitions and tours for over a year. The exhibition SUPERTALL!, which is still on display at the museum, takes a look at “supertalls,” or what the Skyscraper Museum considers buildings above 1,250 feet — the height of the Empire State Building. A museum survey found that there are only 58 buildings in the world that surpass that height, seven of which are located in New York City. The survey includes all buildings that in fall 2019 were believed to have a completion date by 2024.

On October 6, the Skyscraper Museum’s director and exhibition curator Carol Willis will discuss the special exhibition SUPERTALL! 2021, which surveys new developments in skyscrapers design and engineering around the world in a special visit exclusively for Untapped New York Insiders. This tour will feature models and more on the world’s three tallest buildings: Burj Khalifa in Dubai; Merdeka 118 in Kuala Lumpur (under construction); and Shanghai Tower. It will also showcase the 9′-tall context model of the most slender building in the world, Manhattan’s 111 W 57th St. The event is free for Untapped New York Insiders (and get your first month free with code JOINUS).

Supertall exhibition

Tour of The Skyscraper Museum

“A contest for superior height is not the driving force in all these projects, although status and commanding views clearly are important,” the museum wrote. “Supertalls are expensive and exceptional buildings, but they are also now well established as 21st-century type. The exhibition features about a dozen of the most extraordinary recent towers, exploring ideas about formal and structural innovation, as well as the place of a signature tower in a master-planned, mixed-use complex that creates community and value on both the ground and in the sky.”

Only one structure in the world, the Eiffel Tower, reached the height of 1,000 feet before 1929. The Chrysler Building reached its spire to 1,046 feet, and in 1930, the Empire State stretched to 1,250 feet. Supertalls were quite rare in the 20th century — the only supertalls constructed by 1974 were the Empire State, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center, and Chicago’s Sears Tower. The first international supertalls were office buildings in southern China’s Pearl River Delta: Shun Hing Square in Shenzhen and CITIC Plaza in Guangzhou, both completed in 1996. In 1998 the twin Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur took the title of “world’s tallest building” away from the United States for the first time. The last of the 20th century’s giants was the slender Jin Mao Tower in Shanghai.

The development strategy of these supertalls is to pack as much of the FAR (floor area ratio) into a very small footprint, especially since there are zoning restrictions on the FAR in New York. Architects and developers also tried to raise each floor of apartments as high up as possible to capture spectacular views. Elevators could be reduced to two to five shafts, unlike an office building, which also keeps the FAR profitable for the developer.

Since 2014, supertalls began to blossom in New York City. First came One World Trade Center in 2014, then just a year later 432 Park Avenue — which drew quite a lot of criticism. 2019 saw the opening of 30 Hudson Yards, and 2020 was an exciting year for supertalls as One Vanderbilt, 111 West 57th St and Central Park Tower all were completed. Learn more about the history and features of New York’s supertalls. Here are New York City’s seven supertalls!

1. One World Trade Center

1 World Trade Center
One World Trade Center.

One World Trade Center, previously known as the Freedom Tower, is the tallest building in the U.S. and in the Western Hemisphere, as well as the sixth tallest in the world. The building stands at the symbolic height of 1,776 feet, in honor of the year in which the Declaration of Independence was signed. The height includes 408 feet of the spire. The building’s architect is David Childs, whose firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill also designed the tallest building in the world, the Burj Khalifa, and the Willis Tower. It overtook the Empire State Building as the tallest structure in New York City on April 30, 2012.

Floor area was as significant as height in the 1960s and ‘70s in the construction of supertalls. Each of the Twin Towers of the original World Trade Center independently qualified as the world’s largest building — with a floor area of 4.5 million square feet — as well as the world’s two tallest buildings at 1,363 and 1,368 feet. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks, many predicted the end of skyscrapers, since people would be too afraid to work or live in them. Yet these fears were short-lived since the construction of the 94-story building began as early as 2006. One World Trade Center has an area of 40,000 square feet, nearly identical to the footprints of the original Twin Towers. Remnants of the original World Trade Center are still located near One World Trade Center, including the Twin Tower tridents, the slurry wall, the Koenig Sphere and the Survivor Tree.