The Rise and Pitfalls of 15 Penn Plaza
The Empire State Building is an icon that defines the city and its skyline. Even the most hardened stare in wonder as its peak pierces the sky and fog laps against its face. Former New York governor Al Smith said at the dedication of the building, “The Empire State Building stands today as the greatest monument to ingenuity, to skill, to brain power, to muscle power, the tallest thing in the world today produced by the hand of man.” More than anything, the building inspires us and lets us know what is possible if we endeavor to do it. For that reason and all the others, 15 Penn Plaza should be built.
Fifteen Penn Plaza, which was recently approved by a 47-to-1 City Council vote, will rise to within some 30 feet of the Empire’s summit. The new building would be two blocks from the Empire State Building, which critics argue obscures the majesty of the soaring relic.
The Empire State Building was built amid a competition where, on the stage of New York, the world’s architects fought to put up the world’s highest building. But the moment the Empire won, it protected its title. Earlier this year, another proposed skyscraper, Tower Verre, was shrunk by 200 feet because it was going to be built in Midtown—the Empire’s back yard.
The debate shouldn’t be about the Empire State Building. It should be about the city.
There are two ways to stymie a skyline. The first is to let buildings rise only so tall, which flattens out the dramatic rise and fall of the city’s silhouette. The second is to preserve the past as the only standard for excellence and then never strive to try harder.
The Empire State Building is one of the best buildings in the world. It changes color, you can ride up to the top, and it has a nap station. To say that 15 Penn Plaza is even on par with the Empire is too much. However, 15 Penn Plaza’s height is its virtue. At the very least it will bear witness to our era, and at the very most it will inspire the next Empire State Building by saying that no building has a monopoly on height and we should keep reaching higher.
In New York Magazine, Justin Davidson wrote, “The skyline must keep acquiring new peaks, because the day we consider it complete and untouchable is the day the city begins to die.”
Build 15 Penn Plaza, not because it’s beautiful—it isn’t—but because the pursuit of wonder is good. A rising standard of excellence organizes and measures the best of our creative energies. The drive to create more tall buildings created the Empire State Building. If we don’t build 15 Penn Plaza then we resign ourselves to the past. But if we build it then we’ll challenge ourselves to reach higher, to build not just the next Empire, but the next ten, like an urban Parthenon of steel and concrete.
“The most extraordinary cities create energy as they form themselves, and that energy and complexity are qualities you can’t abandon,” said Jean Nouvel in a *New York Magazine* interview after his tower was hemmed in. “Our responsibility is to bear witness to our era. A city’s identity is not just something you preserve. It’s something you create too.”