Inscribing its name as the world’s thinnest skyscraper, Steinway tower stands out of the New York’s skyline due to its striking staggered form. With a plot of just 18-meter width, the tower reaches 1,428 feet above the ground. The building has a slender (width-to-height) ratio of 1:24, making it the slenderest building world has ever seen. While the north side reaches the pinnacle of the building, the south side bears a series of setbacks forming a staggered form.

Steinway Tower by SHoP Architects: The World’s Thinnest Skyscraper - Sheet1
Steinway tower ©
Steinway Tower by SHoP Architects: The World’s Thinnest Skyscraper - Sheet2
Façade showing the staggered form of the building ©

Unlike the recently emerging skyscrapers with monotonous glass facades, Steinway tower demarcates its identity with a historic expression of neo-classic style. This terra cotta and the gold filigree-wrapped building is an example of New York’s classical skyscraper which is beautifully integrated with the latest technology, setting an excellent example of engineering and fabrication.

The journey from a piano showroom to a residential tower: Steinway Tower

Steinway tower, also known as 111 West 57th street building, is a residential building located in the billionaire’s row on 57th street near sixth avenue in Manhattan city, New York. The building was designed with two separate functions at two different times. Originally, the Steinway tower served as the headquarters and showroom for Steinberg and Sons piano company. Built-in 1925, the beaux art building was designed by Warren & Wetmore. The building was landmarked by 2001 and couldn’t be torn down as per Landmarks Preservation Commission guidelines. After being taken over by JDS development in 2012, the construction of the residential tower began in 2015.

Steinway Tower by SHoP Architects: The World’s Thinnest Skyscraper - Sheet3
Render and photograph of Steinway hall, 1925 ©

Design concept

111 West 57th Street Building is the second tallest residential building (435 m) with 80 floors following the central park tower (473m). Designed by SHoP architects, the Steinway tower reflects the values of a classical New York building. The old and the new structure are seamlessly stitched together by finely designed structure and interior spaces. The historic building has been kept forward, putting the emphasis on the existing structure, whereas the new residential tower is moved back. The entrance of the tower is made using glass panels and setbacks. Consequently, the staggered form is developed by taking setbacks as the basic concept. The building feathers away as it gains more height to accentuate the massing concept.

Steinway Tower by SHoP Architects: The World’s Thinnest Skyscraper - Sheet4
Design concept (Massing strategy) ©

The original Steinway building was renovated and adapted into 14 condo units, whereas the new tower comprises 46 condominiums with 7 duplex apartments. Most of the condos take a full floor area and typically consists of three bedrooms and three and a half baths. The units have a private entry adjacent to the elevator with a grey oak floor. The living room door features a bronze handle in the shape of the tower which is designed by P. E. Guerin Hardware. It is very apparent that minute details have been taken care of which reflects the historic significance of the building by careful selection of materials. 

Steinway Tower by SHoP Architects: The World’s Thinnest Skyscraper - Sheet5
Typical Condo floor plan ©
Interior of residential condos designed by Studio Sofield ©
Interior of residential condos designed by Studio Sofield ©

The amenities spaces take up 20,000 sq. ft. of the building area with an 82-foot long (25 m) pool, barbershop, gym, shoeshine stand, and a lounge flaunting a Steinway grand piano.

Swimming pool in the amenity space ©
Swimming pool in the amenity space ©

The width of the setbacks on the south side decreases as the height of the building increases, thus disappearing in the sky eventually. The tower is flanked by large glass windows on the north and south side whereas the east and west sides are accentuated with vertical bands of terracotta and bronze with smaller windows.

Creating coherence through materials:

Rather than mimicking the crystalline look of the new developments, Steinway tower uses traditional material to enrich the exteriors. Terracotta has been fabricated into parametric shapes and forms using computer programs. It is an excellent example of taking reference from the past whilst molding according to the present technology.  

Terracotta panels and bronze lattice work on façade ©
Terracotta panels and bronze lattice work on façade ©

The east and west façade has cantilevered terra cotta panels which adds to their depth and richness. There are 26 types of terracotta panels with six different shades of cream which creates a harmony with the limestone of the old Steinway hall. The order, texture, and richness are what make this skyscraper stand out. The terracotta panels and bronze latticework also have structural significance as they partly reduce the wind forces on the skyscraper.

Structural elements of Steinway tower: Steinway Tower

Due to the slenderness ratio of 1:24, Steinway tower comes under the category of super-slender building. Such a building becomes more flexible and therefore should be designed to resist the lateral movements of the building. To endure the wind and seismic forces, the buildings had two 3ft thick shear walls running throughout the east and west façade, whereas the north and south façade had columns to offer the panoramic view of central park.

Structural plan from middle floors ©
Structural plan from middle floors ©

Structural engineer Silvian Marcus specifies that while designing the structure of such a slender building, it is important to consider 4 criteria, i.e. stiffness, natural damping, generalized weight, and confusing the wind. In order to fulfill these criteria, Steinway tower has 4 mechanical floors stiffened with outriggers. The 15.5 ft. floor-to-floor height conceals the stiffening beams. These floors also let the airflow through the building, thus minimizing its acceleration.

Steinway Tower by SHoP Architects: The World’s Thinnest Skyscraper - Sheet9
Wind escape floors scheme on upper floor plan ©

800 tons of tuned mass damper is also installed to decrease lateral movement at the top which is obscured by a lightweight steel structure. The presence of a spire and steel truss on top also reduces the acceleration caused due to lateral movement significantly.

Structure of Steinway tower ©
Structure of Steinway tower ©

Besides setting a benchmark as the thinnest skyscraper, Steinway tower is also an excellent example of the amalgamation of traditional and modern. Being sited near the central park, the structure doesn’t compromise with the views through the building, rather embraces it. The seamless integration of the new residential tower to the old Steinway hall is what makes the 111 West 57th street building one of its kind.

Steinway Tower ©
Steinway Tower ©

Yashika Sharma is an architecture enthusiast who is keen to explore and learn everything that architecture has to offer. She believes that there is always another perception, value, and essence which needs to be realized and appreciated in architecture. Architecture literature is an essential portal for spreading such ideas.