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Central Park Tower, 217 West 57th Street: Review and Ratings

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Carter Horsley
Review of 217 West 57th Street by Carter Horsley

New York City’s tallest building without a spire, this mixed-use tower at 221 West 57th Street has been built by Extell Development, which started the city’s explosion of SuperTall buildings with One57 at 157 West 57th Street, one block to the east. That building was a mere 1,004 feet high. This building is 1,550 feet high.

It originally was called the Nordstrom Tower because that department store agreed to become its major retail tenant.  It is known now as the Central Park Tower.

It has been designed by Adrian Smith & Gordon Gill, who were formerly with Skidmore, Owings & Merrill.  Mr. Smith designed the 2,717-foot-high Burj Kalifa in Dubai, presently the world’s current tallest building, and is now designing the 3,280-foot-high Kingdom Tower in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.

This 95-story tower achieved its great height by using air rights from some adjoining buildings and getting the Art Students League at 215 West 57th Street to agree to have it extend its cantilever 28 feet to the east over it but at a height of about 200 feet over the roof of the league, or about 300 feet off the ground.  Extell paid $23.1 million in 2005 to the league for 136,000 square feet of air rights and several years later paid an additional $31.8 million for 6,000 more square feet of air rights from the league.

Its progress was held up by a dispute with the developer of 220 Central Park South across 58th Street from it.  Extell had bought the lease for the garage of the apartment building that once occupied part of the site and was therefore able to stymie the development plans of Vornado, which had bought and demolished the 20-story apartment building at 220 Central Park South.  The two major developers finally reached a compromise in which Vornado bought Extell’s garage lease but agreed to move its planned tower to the east to free up views for the Extell project.  Vornado’s tower is considerably shorter than the Extell tower but had it not moved it would have obstructed a good many views to the north and of Central Park for the Extell tower.

Vornado’s Central Park South tower, in construction at the same time as 225 West 57th Street, has been designed by Robert A. M. Stern and it is perhaps his finest high-rise design to date with a fluted, but flat top, a low-rise building on Central Park South, and a handsome courtyard.

Initially, Extell planned to have a spire atop this tower that would have brought its height to 1,775 feet, one foot lower, respectfully, to the height of the spire atop One World Trade Center downtown.  In June, 2015, however, Extell announced it would not have a spire but the rest of its design remain unchanged, oddly since the spire, simple as it was, was a substantial element of the design.

Unlike most skyscraper spires that rise from the center of the tower, Extell’s spire was decided off-center and was placed at the eastern edge of the tower. This design decision presumably reflected the tower’s asymmetry despite its apparent slimness.  A center tower might have been visually more appealing, but the off-center placement is more intriguing and beguiling, though probably not bewitched and bothered.

By removing the spire, the tower is left with a flat top, which echoes those of its tall neighbors to the west: 220 Central Park South, Central Park Place, the Hearst Building, the Time-Warner Center and Trump Place as well as 432 Park Avenue, One Beacon Place and the General Motors building to the east. 

A flat top, however, is at odds, a bit, with 111 East 57th Street, the Sherry Netherlands, the Hotel Pierre, 650 Madison Avenue, and 53 East 53rd Street, to the east.

The spire’s removal disappointed some commentators on the web on aesthetic grounds rather than mere height concerns.

Given the recent proliferation of spires in midtown, many of which have colorful illumination programs, it seems a shame that the city’s tallest doesn’t join the “festivities” especially since its truncated top brings back painful memories of the City Planning Commission’s outrageous guillotinization of Jean Nouvel’s 53rd Street tower whose top 200 feet were ordered reduce because it conflicted with the top of the Empire State Building, a mile or so away.

Bottom Line

This dramatically cantilevered tower is the largest of the city’s current crop of SuperTalls and the tallest structure without a spire in the city and the country as it will surpass the Willis Tower, that was formerly known as the Sears Tower, in Chicago.  


This tower’s cantilever is not a little bump but a significant broadening for the bulk of the building’s prodigious height. 

Like its developer’s little, but older sister one block east at One57, this building’s north and south façades recede somewhat on its eastern side but in only one slim step versus the two broad steps at One57.  The visual effect, best seen from Central Park to the north, is a shift, but not a tilt, to the east in total mass even though the tallest part of both towers is to the west, a rather subtle visual dynamic.

This horizontal accent, of course, is overwhelmed by the project’s enormous verticality.

It has six small setbacks as its soars to its pinnacle parapet that was raised 20 feet when it abandoned its spire and is now 182 feet higher than the parapet at One World Trade Center.

The tower’s north and south façades have thin vertical piers that reduce in number as it rises.  It also has periodic large bands that grow larger as it rises.  These visual manipulations are the stuff of architecture and the architects here could not resist going the extra yards to produce a sensational base on 57th Street.

Above an extra-wide and deep entrance marquee across the entire 57th Street frontage, they have “melted” the base with a very wavy glass wall.  The rippling curtain wall of the tower’s base on 57th Street, however, will set their hearts aflurry as it is more gentle than Niagara Falls but very refreshing.  Its curvaceousness is very alluring.  Downright sexy, in fact.


In late 2009, the city’s Landmarks Preservation Commission voted, 6 to 3, to designate 1780 Broadway, a 12-story, mid-block building on the east side of the street between 57th and 58th streets a landmark.  It was erected in 1909 for B. F. Goodrich, the tire company, and designed by Howard Van Doren Shaw, who also designed the adjoining but slightly shorter building around the corner at 225 West 57th Street.  Mr. Shaw was a Chicago architect who collaborated on the two buildings with the New York firm of Waid & Willauer.

The commission decided not to designated the nearly identical building on 57th Street because of opposition by Extell and the City Council that threatened to overturn the commission’s designation.  Extell’s preservation consultant, Higgins & Quasebarth, had argued that the 8-story building on 57th Street was built on spec and never occupied by B. F. Goodrich.  According to a November 11, 2009 article by Matt Chaban at, commissioner Stephen Byrns said that “as a work of architecture, it is extremely strong, extremely rare, and extremely precious example of early modernism,” adding that “while it doesn’t share the history with Automobile Row, the details are of a kind rarely seen in New York.”

In 1963, Joseph E. Levine began construction on the Lincoln Art Theater at 225 West 57th Street on a former parking lot facing 58th Street and on the main floor of the 12-story building on 57th Street that was previously used by a Roger Kent clothing store.



Out of 44

Architecture Rating: 24 / 44

Out of 36

Location Rating: 31 / 36

Out of 39

Features Rating: 23 / 39


CityRealty Rating Reference

  • 30+ remarkable
  • 20-29 distinguished
  • 11-19 average
  • < 11 below average
  • 27+ remarkable
  • 18-26 distinguished
  • 9-17 average
  • < 9 below average
  • 22+ remarkable
  • 16-21 distinguished
  • 9-15 average
  • < 9 below average
  • #27 Rated condo - Midtown
  • #14 Rated condo - Midtown West
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