The Ever-Shrinking Chrysler Building

Thanks to New York’s Midtown East rezoning plan, a spate of supertalls are underway that will completely overwhelm the once-dominant Chrysler Building.

270 Park Avenue. Image courtesy Foster + Partners

The Manhattan skyline looks drastically different today than a decade ago, long before the emergence of the skewer-like supertalls on Billionaire’s Row or the oft-maligned glass fortress of Hudson Yards. One district in particular is gearing up for a drastic—if not gradual—reinvention thanks to amendments to rigid zoning laws championed by former Mayor Bill De Blasio. The Midtown East rezoning plan stipulates that developers can build larger skyscrapers in the neighborhood, long anchored by the Chrysler Building, in exchange for financing transit improvements and public space.

The first new project to benefit from the policy is 270 Park Avenue, a 1,388-foot-tall office tower designed by Foster + Partners and Vishaan Chakrabarti’s Practice for Architecture and Urbanism that’s slated to be the city’s largest all-electric skyscraper when construction wraps in 2025. It replaces the Union Carbide Building, a 52-story International Style tower that critics described as “the incarnation of white-collar America” but became the world’s tallest building to be voluntarily demolished despite architecture circles vying for its preservation. Renderings of the replacement depict a hulking glassy tower defined by triangular window bracing and a wedding cake shape that references setbacks typical of traditional Manhattan silhouettes.

270 Park Avenue is the latest entry into the skyward developer arms race that is heralding an era of change for the area—and dwarfing the Chrysler Building, which once reigned as the city’s tallest structure. The 1,401-foot-tall One Vanderbilt turned heads when it was unveiled in late 2020, but will soon sit in the shadows of the recently approved 175 Park Avenue, a behemoth designed by Skidmore, Owings & Merrill that tops out 250 feet higher. Gensler’s boxy Tower Fifth, proposed a few blocks north, may become a taller, flashier version of the neighboring 432 Park Avenue. Meanwhile, Vornado Realty is working on securing approvals for the 1,450-foot-tall 350 Park Avenue, also by Foster + Partners.

270 Park Avenue. Image courtesy Foster + Partners

The scale of this new construction is largely unprecedented in the city, and if it proceeds as planned, the Chrysler Building will be completely overwhelmed by its colossal neighbors. When the city first announced the Midtown East rezoning plan, the Municipal Art Society was quick to weigh in about the beloved Art Deco skyscraper’s fate. “The verifiable photo simulations show how iconic buildings such as the Chrysler Building will not be visible from many vantage points if development occurs as proposed,” the organization wrote in 2013. 

Developers hardly seem to care: In 2019, Tishman Speyer listed the aging building for a cool $150 million— $19 million less than the penthouse at 432 Park. Aby Rosen quickly snapped it up and announced an ambitious $200 million revitalization plan that’s in progress, but was hamstrung by the pandemic. “It has lost a little bit of its relevance,” Rosen says of the building, describing it as an American icon. “But it has not lost its beauty or importance.”

Given that few workers have returned to the office and apartment rentals across the city are spiking to unprecedented levels, is building new office towers in the best interest of New Yorkers? Perhaps investing in converting aging office buildings in the area to affordable housing—and preserving the Manhattan skyline in the process—is a wiser move.

All Stories