The Skyscraper Museum is devoted to the study of high-rise building, past, present, and future. The Museum explores tall buildings as objects of design, products of technology, sites of construction, investments in real estate, and places of work and residence. This site will look better in a browser that supports web standards, but it is accessible to any browser or Internet device.

History of Slenderness

New York City is the birthplace of the improbably slender tower. In the late 19th- and early 20th century, many tall shafts rose over every square foot of their narrow, high-priced lots. Indeed, it was the high value of the land and the potential offered by the technology of the elevator and steel-cage construction to pile many floors of rentable space onto a small lot that made New York a city of towers.

The first was a period of skyrocketing growth when, until the passage of the city's first zoning law in 1916, no municipal regulations constrained height. By 1909, the Metropolitan Life Insurance Tower rose 700 feet-- 50 stories-- on a lot only 75 x 85 feet.

A second phase of vertical ambition and energy came in the 1920s. Shaped by the massing formula set by the 1916 zoning law, buildings with bulky pyramidal bases and slender soaring towers, covering no more than 25 percent of the lot area, became the new characteristic type of New York skyscrapers.

After 1961, a new zoning law set a limit on building height-- or more accurately, imposed a maximum total floor area permitted on a given lot. By allowing for the purchase and transfer of "air rights," however, the code created the opportunity for some buildings to grow taller, and in the case of residential towers, encouraged slenderness.

This exhibition proposes that we have entered a fourth phase of a special form of slenderness: the super-slim residential skyscraper.

NEXT: tall but not slender