The World’s Skinniest Skyscraper Has a Storied Musical Past

At 1,428 feet tall and just 60 feet wide, Steinway Tower is so slender that its top floors may sway in the wind

The Steinway Tower overlooking Central Park
Residents of Billionaire's Row's newest building enjoy stunning views of Central Park. Photo by David Sundberg / Courtesy of Optimist Consulting

The world’s skinniest skyscraper has opened in New York City—and it’s so slender that the Guardian has dubbed it “the coffee stirrer.” With a height-to-width ratio of 24:1, Steinway Tower, at 111 West 57th Street, has swayed its way onto the Manhattan skyline. As CNN’s Lydia Armstrong writes, the 84-story “Billionaire’s Row” building overlooks Central Park and has already made a “powerful” architectural statement.

Standing at 1,428 feet, Steinway Tower is now one of the tallest buildings in the Western Hemisphere, topped only by One World Trade Center (1,776 feet), Central Park Tower (1,550 feet), and Willis (formerly Sears) Tower (1,450 feet).

Despite standing over a quarter-mile tall, the building is just 60 feet wide—the same measurement as the length of a standard bowling alley, according to the Guardian. Though it’s constructed out of the world’s strongest concrete, per Architectural Digest’s Jessica Cherner, the building—like “all skyscrapers,” in the words of the New York Times’ Michelle Higgins—sways to some degree in the wind. (Though posibly unsettling, this movement doesn’t present a safety hazard.) As engineers Rowan Williams Davies and Irwin told the Times in 2015, a 1,000-foot-tall tower might move several inches on a typical windy day and up to two feet on a rare 100-mile-per-hour wind day.

“[Tall buildings] can’t not sway,” John Ochsendorf, a structural engineer at MIT who was not involved in the Steinway Towers construction, told Nala Rogers of Inside Science in January. “The whole trick is to design the buildings so that the building occupants never feel the movement.”

A vertical shot of the very skinny Steinway Tower
As wide as a bowling alley is long, the Steinway Tower is crowned by a 300-foot steel decoration. Photo by Evan Joseph / Courtesy of Optimist Consulting

Steinway isn’t the first back-and-forth building to go up in Manhattan. Skinny skyscrapers are becoming de rigueur in New York as architects emulate a style popular in many major Asian cities.

A nearby tower, 432 Park Avenue, opened in 2015 with similar dimensions and its own swaying issues. Though popular upon its opening, boasting celebrities like Jennifer Lopez as residents, the building has recently been in the news thanks to tenants who are fed up with its quirks. In September 2021, the condo board sued the tower’s developers, claiming they failed “to properly design and build the [b]uilding for its remarkable height,” causing “horrible and obtrusive noise and vibrations” in the pricey homes.

For those with stronger sea legs, Steinway Tower holds 60 apartments—and a storied musical history. Forty-six full-floor and duplex residences are in the tower itself, while 14 are in the landmarked Steinway Hall that serves as part of the tower’s base, according to a developer statement. Built in 1925 and designed by Warren and Wetmore, the building once served as the home of legendary piano company Steinway & Sons.

German immigrant Heinrich Engelhard Steinweg founded the business in 1853. With the help of an Americanized name and a penchant for sound, his company became known for its expensive, American-made instruments. Located on East 14th Street, the original building that bore the Steinway name featured a different kind of showroom: a fully equipped concert hall that served as the home of the New York Philharmonic and welcomed musical guests like Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky.

After Carnegie Hall replaced Steinway’s concert hall as New York’s premier musical venue, Steinway & Sons commissioned a 16-story building on West 57th Street to house its showrooms. The building’s façade featured portraits of famous pianists and composers like Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and Edvard Grieg, lending what the Landmarks Preservation Commission of New York calls a “monumental architectural presence [to] the cultural corridor of West 57th Street.” Though smaller in scale than the original concert hall, the newer Steinway Hall was the site of private concerts and CBS radio broadcasts. Storied musicians ranging from Sergei Rachmaninoff to Regina Spektor walked through its doors to find the perfect piano.

In homage to the hall (whose rotunda and façade were restored in collaboration with the commission), designers imbued Steinway Tower with the essence of pre-war, Golden-Age Manhattan. A Steinway grand piano greets residents in the glossy, gilded lobby, and the exterior of the building is cloaked in classic terracotta pilasters.

The tower honors the past. Its construction and amenities, though, are decidedly modern. A 300-foot steel crown decorates the top of the building; inside, residents have access to everything from concierge service to an 82-foot-long swimming pool with private cabanas, a sauna and a steam room. The residences themselves offer 360-degree views of Central Park, and the tower’s three-story penthouse boasts a handmade nickel bathtub.

Steinway & Sons doesn’t publish its prices online, but consumer guide Acoustic & Digital Piano Buyer notes that the company’s most expensive grand piano costs about $350,000. A studio at Steinway Tower starts at the price of 20 of those pianos—$7.75 million. And the penthouse? Its future owner will have to pony up cash equaling the cost of 189 highest-end Steinways. The high (and swaying) life will cost its lucky owner a cool $66 million.

Editor's Note, April 15, 2022: This article has been updated with additional information about skyscrapers moving in the wind.

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