Tallness is pretty much the only distinguishing feature of 520 W. 41st St., the tower set to be the largest residential development in New York City. Renderings of the near-transparent design were released as part of an environmental impact statement last week.
If approved, the supertall mixed-use building will be yet another giant glass box in the sky from Silverstein Properties, the developers behind the similarly bland and glassy new developments at the World Trade Center site, 4 World Trade Center and 7 World Trade Center (full disclosure: the Fast Company offices reside in 7 WTC, and its boring transparent facade actually makes for a pretty nice interior). At 1,100 feet tall, the as-of-yet unnamed 41st Street tower will likely stick out like a soaring glass thumb in the surrounding neighborhood, where the tallest nearby building is only 650 feet tall.
Community members have opposed the development's scale—the Hell’s Kitchen Land Use Committee drafted a letter to the City Planning Department to ask for a reduction in height, calling the tower "out of context even for the 400 and 500 foot towers currently built" in the area. It's set to be the biggest residential building in New York City, though not the tallest—Rafael Viñoly's 85-story 432 Park Avenue in Midtown will rise to 1,398 feet, but contain only 99 units.
Supertall apartment towers like the 75-story luxury One57 near Central Park South are all the rage in New York City architecture right now, but this offers something New York City development actually needs: way more housing. The real estate site New York YIMBY says 520 W. 41st St. will contain "more units than the combined total of every other residential supertall either proposed or under construction in New York City." It will cram 1,400 residential units (plus 175 corporate apartments) into 106 stories, and 20% of that will be reserved for affordable housing—280 apartments. Between 2010 and 2013, New York City's population increased by 215,782 people, but the city added 21,688 housing units, putting more pressure on the housing market. And if there's one thing New York needs, it's more affordable housing—only 35,000 affordable housing units were built citywide between 2003 and 2012, according to the Real Estate Board of New York, and in 2012, almost 55% of renters in the city were "rent-burdened," meaning they were spending more than 30% of their income on rent, the threshold of what's considered "affordable."
The city needs this kind of supertall density to make room for a growing population that's not just made up of millionaires and billionaires. 520 W. 41st St.'s giant glass box may be functional in that sense, but the blandness of its design represents a missed opportunity. Supertall residential towers can only combat the city's housing crunch if they actually get built, and an appealing design would no doubt make it easier to persuade skeptical neighbors that a tower skyscraper won't be a blight on their beloved low-slung community.