This skyscraper on Manhattan’s Billionaire’s Row is popular not because of its height but because its world’s thinnest skyscraper with a width-to-height ratio of about 1:24. 111 West 57th Street, a 1427 foot tall tower designed by SHoP Architects is the second tallest residential tower on the Western Hemisphere.
According to the architects “the tower’s form is a bold interpretation of what is possible within the requirements of the Midtown Manhattan zoning envelope.” Mandated setbacks were multiplied where the building form contacts the sky-exposure plane, resulting in a feathered rather than a stepped profile. The setbacks serve as sites for a finial at the top of each column of the terra-cotta ornament that rises on the east and west facades. Without mimicking historic precedent, this approach unifies the massing of 111 West 57th Street in the tradition of classic towers such as One Wall Street, 30 Rockefeller Center, or the Empire State Building.
“We achieved the goal by carefully shaping the tower’s profile, and by developing an innovative approach to using an authentic material from the golden age of the Manhattan skyscraper: terra-cotta,” say the architects.
Terra-cotta is one of the most beautiful and adaptable materials available to architects today. For 111 West 57th Street, blocks of sequentially varying profiles were modeled, extruded, glazed, and then stacked into an involuted pattern, like a softly breaking wave, that appears at once novel and familiar. Staggering those elements across the facade creates a distinctive moiré that changes dramatically when seen in different lights or from various distances.
The development faced several challenges, including financing difficulties, numerous lawsuits, and controversies over employment.