Super-tall, super-skinny, super-expensive: the ‘pencil towers’ of New York’s super-rich

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The proposed 2022 skyline overlooking Central Park.
Photograph: Andrew C Nelson/Jose Hernandez/Skyscraper Museum

An extreme concentration of wealth in a city where even the air is for sale has produced a new breed of needle-like tower. By Oliver Wainwright

It is rare in the history of architecture for a new type of building to emerge. The Romans’ discovery of concrete birthed the great domes and fortifications of its empire. The Victorians’ development of steel led to an era of majestic bridges and vaulted train sheds. The American invention of the elevator created the first skyscrapers in Chicago. Now, we are seeing a new type of structure that perfectly embodies the 21st-century age of technical ingenuity and extreme inequality. A heady confluence of engineering prowess, zoning loopholes and an unparalleled concentration of personal wealth have together spawned a new species of super-tall, super-skinny, super-expensive spire.

Any visitor to New York over the past few years will have witnessed this curious new breed of pencil-thin tower. Poking up above the Manhattan skyline like etiolated beanpoles, they seem to defy the laws of both gravity and commercial sense. They stand like naked elevator shafts awaiting their floors, raw extrusions of capital piled up until it hits the clouds.

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The rise of the new super-rich

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Today’s super-rich are different from yesterday’s: more hardworking and meritocratic, but less connected to the nations that granted them opportunity.

If you were watching television on the first Sunday morning in August last summer, you would have seen something curious on NBC.  David Gregory, host of Meet the Press, was interviewing a guest who made a forceful case that the U.S. economy had become “very distorted.” In the wake of the recession, this guest explained, high-income individuals, large banks, and major corporations had experienced a “significant recovery”; the rest of the economy, by contrast—including small businesses and “a very significant amount of the labor force”—was stuck and still struggling.  He argued that what we were seeing was not a single economy at all, but rather “fundamentally two separate types of economy,” increasingly distinct and divergent.

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Boom in Luxury Cars Sales Driven by the Super-Rich in China

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A BMW Vision Concept car at the Beijing Auto Show in Beijing, China.

It is difficult to take your eyes off an £800,000 automobile, which perhaps explains why the Rolls-Royce Phantom at this week’s Beijing Auto Show was that rare thing, a car attracting more avid attention than the skimpily-clad models preening over the bonnets of lesser brands.  “We sold that car this morning,” Rolls-Royce’s new German chief executive, Torsten Muller-Otvos observed casually. “I can’t say who bought it, but a client known to our Beijing dealership will take it after the show.”

 

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