Artist’s rendering of proposed 15 Penn Plaza in midtown Manhattan. It is just 10 meters shorter than the Empire State Building. (Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects/AP) (via

I love the skyline of New York as much as the next person but I think we can all agree that it needs some new blood. Our most iconic skyscrapers are from the 1920s (Chrysler Building) and 30s (Empire State Building) but we’re supposed to be a major capital of the 21st Century. Well, things are about to change. New York City Council has voted to allow Vornado Realty Trust from proceeding with a Pelli Clarke Pelli-designed 1,216-foot skyscraper adjacent to Penn Station. Since this is New York, there are a lot of people are against the building but Mayor Bloomberg is for it.

The Anthony Malkin of Malkin Holdings, an Empire State Building owner, wrote to the City Council and boy did he rev up the hyperbole:

The Empire State Building is the internationally recognized icon on the skyline of New York City. We are its custodians, and must protect its place. Would a tower be allowed next to the Eiffel Tower or Big Ben’s clock tower? Just as the world will never tolerate a drilling rig next to The Statue of Liberty, why should governmental bonuses and waivers be granted to allow a structure as tall and bulky at 15 Penn Plaza to be built 900 feet away from New York City’s iconic landmark and beacon? … If built, be as much a scar on the complexion of New York City as the loss of Penn Station.

The Brooklyn Eagle hates it too:

Get Frank Gehry back in town or ask Jean Nouvel to take time off from Jane’s Carousel to pitch in. If we are going to do something like this, like “threaten” the Empire State Building, let’s do it right. Let’s honor our city, not insult it with something that might even be unkind to Omaha.

And Gothamist points out the most “who cares” fact of all:

… 66% of New York visitors said the new 15 Penn Plaza tower would degrade the character of the New York skyline.

Always snarky Curbed, thinks the problem with the building is that it screws up the feng shui of the neighboring Empire State Building. Point taken.

In my opinion, it’s obvious the building isn’t an architectural marvel but at least it shatters the sacred cow that is the New York skyline. Perhaps this new addition will encourage others to build big and transform our city into something that doesn’t look like a relic of the 20th Century. If I wanted to live in a museum I would move to Venice.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

12 replies on “New York OKs Major New Skyscraper”

  1. I too am so glad this did not get blocked! Heard a woman on the radio this morning – I can’t remember who, but I think she spoke at the hearing – making the point about New York City being a place that is always literally and figuratively reaching for the heavens.

    1. This big honking building is not going to set any good precedents for modernizing the city skyline. Quite the opposite. A remarkable Jean Nouvel tower that tapered to a needlepoint at about 70 or 80 stories was planned for a site next to the Museum of Modern Art would have had that effect in the opinion of most major architecture entities in New York. It was shot down by Amanda Burden and the same people who approved the Pelli hunk’a’building because they claimed that it would compete with the existing midtown skyline. This is not about revitalizing the city. The Pelli building was given 50 % more height than allowed because it is opposite Madison Sq. Garden and it is some sort of development zone. It also was exempted from existing setback rules. I am writing from a wonderful Cesar Pelli building on 59th & Lex. The design at Penn Plaza is purely about bulk not design.

        1. Maybe they will have less of a case after something like this goes up. As an architect friend who once worked in Pelli’s office told me, this seems to be a case of “what worked in Jersey City for the developer is what they hope will work in New York.” I thought that was kind of funny. And the building that is being destroyed is not that great. It’s kind of dumpy and meh, in my opinion.

  2. “If I wanted to live in a museum I would move to Venice.”

    Fuck yeah.

    Actually, it’s pretty uninspired and I’m sad they are destroying a rather amazing old building, but in a choice between a stultified or dynamic cityscape, I’ll pick the hot one. Funny that we’re supposed to care about the monopolistic fortunes of some gazillionaire, but then that’s par for the course lately, huh?

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