Art of the Olive Oyl skyline

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Photo of Manhattan from above Central Park. (Steve Mouzon)

This amazing (and scary) shot of Manhattan snapped (if you can say that about photos these days) from a helicopter hovering over Central Park was taken the other day by Miami architect Steve Mouzon. He and others may very well be astonished at the number of stick towers shooting up into the firmament, rivaling and eventually topping the height of the Empire State Building (1,250 feet). The first completed supertall stick was 432 Park Ave., at 1,396 feet, which was inspired by a trash can, and looks it; architect Rafael Viñoly admits it. After reading of the London skyline after the svelte Tulip’s supposed official demise, what are we to make of this sprouting of Olive Oyl condominiums?

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Building boom mapped. (CurbedNY)

The one toward the right, Mouzon writes, may have still 20 or 30 stories to go before topping out. Is that the one with the blue curtain wall and the yellow crane up top? If so, it looks to leave the poor Empire State in the dust. But that probably won’t be the only one. Curbed NY reports that 27 supertalls (not all of them sticks) are finished, under construction, or in the design and development phase (“NYC’s supertall skyscraper boom, mapped“). The supertalls are, by definition, over 984 feet. Nothing on the boards as yet breaks the height barrier – the “megatalls,” which must zoom over 1,968 feet. (Who comes up with these numbers anyway?)

Some of these sticks are so thin that only one apartment fits on each floor. They are less architectural than engineering marvels – most are not much to look at, but who cares? Who will want to sway in the wind scores of floors up there if the engineering’s not quite up to snuff? Is there an office charged with stamping a stick’s taut cred with a reliable Good Housekeeping seal of approval? In New York? Maybe. Maybe not. But bouts of wind flux may well be the de rigueur topic of conversation for the high and mighty on the way up and wondering what to talk about with occasional fellow travelers on the elevators. (Can there be more than one elevator in a stick?)

As Steve’s photograph suggests, these sticks are poking out the eyes of those for whom the skyline of Manhattan is the cat’s meow. Frankly, however, the elegant skyline long ago went the way of the dodo. Until the 1970s the New York skyline was both graceful and impressive. After the 1970s it remained impressive. Now it is, well, the New York skyline. Eventually it will look like an upturned hairbrush. Too bad.

About David Brussat

This blog was begun in 2009 as a feature of the Providence Journal, where I was on the editorial board and wrote a weekly column of architecture criticism for three decades. Architecture Here and There fights the style wars for classical architecture and against modern architecture, no holds barred. History Press asked me to write and in August 2017 published my first book, "Lost Providence." I am now writing my second book. My freelance writing on architecture and other topics addresses issues of design and culture locally and globally. I am a member of the board of the New England chapter of the Institute of Classical Architecture & Art, which bestowed an Arthur Ross Award on me in 2002. I work from Providence, R.I., where I live with my wife Victoria, my son Billy and our cat Gato. If you would like to employ my writing and editing to improve your work, please email me at my consultancy,, or call 401.351.0457. Testimonial: "Your work is so wonderful - you now enter my mind and write what I would have written." - Nikos Salingaros, mathematician at the University of Texas, architectural theorist and author of many books.
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4 Responses to Art of the Olive Oyl skyline

  1. westfall2 says:

    When the magnates controlled Florence (and other cities) they lived in super tall towers, fought with one another, and lorded it over the little people. When the little people ousted them and instituted republican government, they truncated the towers and legislated that none could rise higher than the Duomo campanile or the tower on the city hall, and this instituted their building the loser palaces such as those of the Strozzi, Pitti, and Medici and other families that, while still authoritative, nonetheless participated in the popular regime, until they regained the upper hand. The Medici palace, originally a public area, was then walled off in 1517 with Michelangelo’s marvelous windows. What does this tell us?

    *Bill* *Carroll William Westfall* Professor Emeritus School of Architecture University of Notre Dame

    On Fri, Jul 19, 2019 at 11:55 PM Architecture Here and There wrote:

    > David Brussat posted: ” This amazing (and scary) shot of Manhattan snapped > (if you can say that about photos these days) from a helicopter hovering > over Central Park was taken the other day by Miami architect Steve Mouzon. > He and others may very well be astonished at the numbe” >


    • Bill, I wish I’d thought to mention the Florentine towers. I stayed in a hotel once, in 1990, that was a renovated Florentine palace with a truncated tower. I think I recall that it was the Porta Rossa, just around the corner from the Piazza della Signoria. What a delight!


  2. LazyReader says:

    New York’s skyline peaked in the 70’s after it’s near total bankruptcy, the desire for the economy to crank out buildings of more impressive heights. I’ve voiced my opinion that the skyscraper is a dying liability. The only places where highrise construction dominates isn’t just any city, it’s the older denser city, the grid city that was conceived before the advent of the automobile unlike new cities like Houston or Atlanta. High rises become largely plop art planted on a plaza, the plaza is a scrap thrown to civic leaders to accommodate shitty public art or give tourists reason to flock. William Whyte best summed it up in his documentary film “The Social Life of small urban spaces”.

    People don’t realize the skyscraper is gonna be obsolete, as they get bigger and more technically and engineering complex…they’re not built to accommodate the boom and bust cycles of real estate. This is best summed up in places like Dubai where highrise construction broke record pace, I’ve seen them many of them are virtually empty. What do you expect when the heat where it costs as much as 1,000 a month just to air condition your condo and they’ve saturated the market with too many highrises. Burj Khalifa is half empty. rents in the Burj Khalifa plummeted 40% some ten months after opening. Out of 900 apartments in the tower, 825 were still empty at that time of completion, unlike most speculation projects where the units sell quickly. China is building whole cities for a populace that cant afford them, along with high speed rail, massive dams and super highways and tunnels and bridges the largest engineering projects in the world. Why, is it to impress or humiliate the West? Maybe but in reality it is because one-third of their economy is state sponsored construction which is ridiculous even thou China has a billion people their population density is not high, prior to 2000 they were still very rural people. All this construction is resource use for resource use sake. For thousands of years the pyramids at Giza, Egypt were the tallest man made structure in the world; So I guess the Middle east is building glittering highrises to recapture that glory and to hopefully attract people to reassure them not to fear the hazards of radical Islam or the socio-economic disaster of petrodollar collapse. And China is doing it cause to not to means sending millions of Chinese either back to the collectivist farms or the Nike factories.
    Moral indignation is jealously with a halo. Good luck to them.


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