Will New York City Ever Build A “Megatall Skyscraper"

According to ‘The Council of Tall Buildings and Urban Habitat’ a megatall skyscraper is one measured at over 1968 feet or 600 meters. Although New York City is home to many skyscrapers, the tallest being One World Trade Center coming in at 1776 feet, there is no building that meets the requirements in order to be deemed a megatall skyscraper. As one of the world's largest cities by building density, number of skyscrapers and population you would begin to ask yourself why such an advanced city, especially within the building sector, there are no megatall skyscrapers. Two of the main reasons for this are:

  1. NYC zoning regulations

  2. Finances

Surely if these are the only two reasons for building height restrictions in NYC they can be overcome?

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Before diving into zoning regulations we must first understand what they are exactly and why these laws inhibit megatall skyscrapers.

 A zoning regulation is a specific law which regulates how a building can be used within a particular zone or neighbourhood. A zoning restriction segregates a buildings use to be unsuitable within a certain area. When determining the height of a building in relation to zoning regulation, the major factors which come into play are:

  • Air rights

  • Land size

  • Floor area ratio

Furthermore private developers aren't impelled to construct megatall buildings to add to the city's prestige, but sensibly take into account their financial limitations.


Air Rights

The power of air rights has been a major contributing factor to a cities advancements throughout modern day history. One of the main fears every new yorker faces when buying an apartment with picturesque views is the day a developer comes along and plants a building directly in front, essentially ‘stealing’ those views and drastically reducing the worth of their home. This is where air rights come into play.

Every land lot in Manhattan has a maximum density restriction and any unused air rights can be sold to neighbouring lots, known as “Transferable Development Rights” (TDR) under certain conditions such as lot size and setbacks, in order for the neighbouring building to be built taller than the height limitations. According to the Department of City Planning an airlot is $225 per square foot, an increase of 47% within the past year. Developers are now paying as much for air rights per square foot as they are for land size per square foot. This however in turn allows for higher buildings and a greater return on investment.

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Land Size

Typically the taller you construct a building, the greater the land size needed. This drastically increases the price of a building especially in a city such as Manhattan where prices come in at $1773 per square foot. If we were to study how such heights are achieved based on land size a perfect example would be the Burj Khalifa, currently ranked as the world's tallest building. The width of the base is roughly 525 feet. To achieve such width in Manhattan would be next to impossible given the lack of space. If a developer were build at such heights the financial costs of required ground coverage would be so astronomically high it would increase the overall cost of the building to the point that a financial return would be next to impossible, given the price you would have to sell per square foot to break profit.

Until engineers come up with a way to build taller buildings with minimal ground coverage achieving such heights is deemed as unprecedented within Manhattan.

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Floor Area Ratio

As previously mentioned the lack of primitive space in a developed city such as Manhattan is minimal. Furthermore when diving deeper into reasons for building height restrictions we found that New York City is split into different zonings within each neighbourhood which fall under different floor area ratios. Floor area ratio is the ratio of a buildings total occupied piece of land subject to its height. A successful floor area ratio is one that achieves the highest density possible while obtaining the most miniscule amount of land.

This is posed as a challenge when building megatall skyscrapers. The taller you build, for stability, the wider the ground coverage required, hence overcoming the challenge of floor area ratio is essential if NYC is to build taller and greater buildings.

Apart from finance being the largest factor contributing to New York City's lack of megatall skyscrapers, air rights, land size and floor area ratio are three demands the city has to adapt. Additionally, with megatall skyscrapers being a new concept within major cities we must accommodate to and or invent newer building techniques, operating systems, schedules, etc. if these buildings were to be as successful as current skyscrapers.