How skinny can you go?

Although the bulk of the fashion industry has markedly shied away from this question in recent times, the race for skinny seems to have been adopted by architects around the world.

A look at the New York City Skyline, the birthplace of slender towers, is telling of this new trend. One Madison Park by CetraRuddy is a good example. Sited on the Manhattan grid, it features a slender shape (12:1 ratio) enabled by a structural system that incorporates rooftop liquid mass dampers and shear walls embedded in the building’s core.

The boom for skinny skyscrapers – if it can be called a boom yet – is made possible by advances in structural design and engineering innovation, but conceived in response to land scarcity. The lack of land has meant that height is favoured over width (and the problem of urban sprawl), with luxury living in the sky the core proposition made to buyers.

“Land is very scarce, especially in the most desirable parts of the city (New York). That’s why you’re seeing this trend of taller buildings being built on smaller parcels of land,” Manhattan developer Michael Stern of JDS Development Group explains in an interview with Yahoo News.

“The price people are willing to pay for the unobstructed Central Park view is really the only reason these buildings can be economically feasible.”

Here are five slender buildings from around the world (and in Australia) that offer great views, but also show off feats of engineering and design.

111 West 57th Street by SHoP Architects (New York)

Located in the heart of midtown Manhattan, this development by SHoP is destined to be the world’s most slender skyscraper, with an aspect ratio of only 1:23 – the longest ratio of the building to the narrowest – at 1,350 ft. This means it will be only about 13 metres wide despite soaring 30 metres above the Empire State Building.

The building’s façade is designed to be read at multiple scales and vantage points, with a glass curtain wall along the north façade taking advantage of sweeping views of Central Park. The building is set back from the main street, its slender form allowing it to be nestled between existing historic structures.

Images: SHoP Architects

Phoenix Apartments by Fender Katsalidis (Melbourne)

The first skinny tower to be introduced in Melbourne, Phoenix Apartments is even thinner than BKK’s Elysium at just 6.7 metres wide and 24.3 metres deep – large enough to house one apartment on each of the 28 floors, and not much wider than a terrace.

Sandwiched between two buildings on the lower levels, and offering views across the Botanic Gardens, Federation Square and the Yarra, the building’s façade features a blue ribbon of steel that emphasises its slenderness. Lifts lead directly into each unit, while a water ballast tank on the roof gives the tower stability in high winds.

Image: Angela Wylie. Source: The Age

AIR Madalena by Triptyque (Brazil)

AIR Madalena in Sao Paulo offers just six lofts varying from 100 to 140sqm, each with an open-air balcony and ample windows to maximise panoramic views of the busy city. Despite the availability of land, the architects chose a slim silhouette design to connect the building with the city, neighbourhood and climate, and occupants with the view, natural light and air.

To combat the problem of occupants feeling ‘squeezed in’, the interiors are flooded with lots of natural light. Each unit also incorporates a double-height living room completed by a second-storey that can be closed off via a retractable wall. The development is expected to be built in just 24 months.

Images: Triptyque

Highcliff by DLN Architects & Engineers (Hong Kong)

Hong Kong is a city renowned for its scarce land and tall buildings, many of which are narrow and located on very tight sites. Allowing for two units per floor, Highcliff features no readily identifiable rear, and utilises screw-on metal cladding and glass curtain walls to overcome height and maintenance concerns.

A passive wind-damper installed on top is tested to reduce movements from eight seconds to just 4.7 seconds, and is the first of its kind for a residential building anywhere in the world. The inclusion of this damper system was necessary to combat typhoons that plague the city in the late summer months.


Elysium Melbourne by BKK architects (Melbourne)

This multi-residential building on 54-56 Clarke Street in Melbourne was approved in January this year, and when completed will claim the title of Melbourne’s tallest skinny tower. Spanning a mere 12 metres wide at its narrowest point, it is unlike other typical ‘pencil towers’, and will display a slender, twisting flower stem design which is expected to encourage natural light within the building.

Employing a number of sophisticated tall-building technologies, the building is located on the sweep of a major arterial freeway serving central Melbourne. Views to and from the building will create a dramatic and dynamic experience, with the elongated form rotated and profiled to accentuate and animate the experience.

Images: BKK Architects