“Buy land,” Mark Twain once opined, “they’re not making it anymore.”
Though the eccentric writer and satirist is most well-known for his timeless novels and sharp wit, his words still ring true more than a century after his death.
Especially in cities like New York, London and Tokyo, land is in perpetually short supply.
Prices continue to climb meteorically, and in many cases they’ve reached previously unimaginable levels.
In large metropolitan areas unprecedented moves toward maximizing land utilization have taken root, and making them a reality may only be a matter of looking to the heavens.
For centuries architects and engineers the world over have been engaged in an arms race, the goal of which has been to build the world’s tallest skyscraper.
Tall structures have always been symbols of might, affluence, national pride, and man’s supposed dominance over the natural world.
That being said, setting out to build the world’s tallest building is a bit of a fool’s errand, because the target is constantly moving.
Contradictory information abounds regarding which buildings held the title and when, but there’s near general consensus about some 20th and 21st century record holders.
Midtown Manhattan’s Empire State Building was the world’s tallest for more than four decades between the ‘30s and ‘70s.
At 102 stories and 1,250 feet including its antenna, the Modernist Art Deco megastructure dominated the city’s iconic horizon like few others have, and it’s still one of The Big Apple’s most recognizable structures.
Chicago’s 110-story, 1,450-foot Willis Tower, formerly known as the Sears Tower, held the title as well.
And let’s not forget the Petronas Towers in Kuala Lumpur.
They surpassed Willis Tower in the mid-’90s, exceeding its height by a mere 33 feet.
Japan’s Tokyo Skytree was the world’s tallest for a spell too.
As was Taiwan’s Taipei 101, and of course the reigning king of altitude, Dubai’s Burj Khalifa–a 2,700-foot monster completed in 2010.
In the late 19th century when it was first coined, the term ‘skyscraper’ was used to describe anything over 10 floors.
Decades later it generally referred to inhabitable highrises exceeding 40 floors or 490 feet.
Now, with the ever-increasing number of buildings topping 100 floors and 1,000 feet, more specific terms are required
‘Supertall’ describes those between 984 and 1,969 feet.
‘Megatalls’ top the 2,000-foot mark.
Whatever the case, buildings are almost always classified by their height, but there’s one on the drawing board of an elite New York design firm that has the potential to stake its claim not as the world’s tallest, but as its longest skyscraper.
The distinction between height and length may seem like a semantic one, but in this instance it makes all the difference in the world.
Early in 2017 preliminary designs for a groundbreaking concept project were unveiled, that if funded and approved would change the city’s skyline and the way we think about architecture forever.
It’s called The Big Bend, and its designers at Oiio sought to supplant the everpresent quest for height with length, and they used a simple yet innovative technique to do it.
New York City’s zoning laws present a peculiarly frustrating mishmash of bureaucratic hoops through which architects, engineers and developers must jump to get projects approved.
The Big Bend’s design was largely the result of these laws, which now allow the air above shorter buildings to be bought and sold like the real estate beneath it.
This unique situation gave rise to the prospect of connecting existing buildings, and erecting new ones on separate plots and joining them in empty spaces that were once off-limits.
The Big Bend’s proposed site sits squarely amidst some of the city’s most exclusive real estate–an area along Central Park South known as ‘Billionaire’s Row.’
The project’s footprints would fit nicely into two narrow plots on either side of existing buildings like Calvary Baptist Church.
It’d also be close to a number of the city’s ritziest highrises like One57 and Central Park Tower.
The former is a moderately high but opulent and exclusive 75-story, 1,005-foot supertall just a few blocks away.
A place where apartment rentals can go for more than 100 grand per month, units sell for upwards of $100 million, and total construction costs were purported to be north of $700 million.
The latter is a 131-story, 1,500-foot residential colossus that offers well-heeled residents unobstructed views of Central Park, the Manhattan skyline, and the East River.
Preliminary drawings of The Big Bend show two slim glass-clad towers nearly a block apart, connected at the top by an inverted U.
Though they wouldn’t vie for the world’s tallest status, the proposed project’s two structures would attain heights of more than 1,800 feet before starting their inward curves toward one another.
At 2,000 feet at the highest point where they meet, they’d still loom hundreds of feet over the aforementioned supertalls.
All told, if the building were stretched out into a straight line it’d be 4,000 feet long.
Though conjoined dual tower structures aren’t new–think the Petronas Towers connected by a horizontal walkway between the 41st and 42nd floors–they’re now more probable than ever.
This development is largely based on new technology that allows elevators to transition from vertical to horizontal travel, which would be a necessity at the building’s curved top.
Not surprisingly, developers claim that in addition to its singular design, The Big Bend would cater exclusively to discerning customers obsessed with luxurious amenities.
Few would argue that it’s an impressive concept, but alas, at this point that’s exactly what it is, just a concept.
And many detractors hope it’ll stay that way.
They claim that the engineering challenges are just too big.
That public opposition is just too strong, and that the last thing the city needs is another gaudy skyscraper adjacent to Central Park.
Critics also claim that the design is far from innovative.
They say that it looks like a big paper clip, a supersized air purifier, and a computer animated backdrop in a cheap sci-fi movie.
Ironically, there’s no mention of estimated cost.
Not that it matters, because projects of such magnitude have histories of languishing in limbo for years before disappearing altogether.
Even during times of prosperity and optimism, projects like The Big Bend make it to the construction phase only a fraction of the time.
Add to that the current health and economic situation in the world and hordes of wealthy New Yorkers fleeing the city for better and less expensive lives elsewhere, and the likelihood of The Big Bend ending up anywhere but the dustbin seems increasingly rare.